What message is your marketing really sending? Is your company’s advertising consistent with your brand, or are you misleading your customers? Companies often send out marketing messages that are less than truthful – at best, they are missing an opportunity to clarify what their brand really stands for. At worst, they are actively deceiving their customers.

A recent article in AdAge mentions Chevron as a high-profile example of the challenges of “Truth in Advertising.” Chevron has been promoting a socially-conscious marketing campaign called “We Agree,” explaining the various ways that the company is trying to be more environmentally friendly while supporting local communities.

And yet, at the same time, Chevron was recently found liable in an $8 billion lawsuit for causing an environmental disaster in South America that is described as “the Chernobyl of the Amazon.”

Which of these realities is the real truth?

The problem is, the brand doesn’t belong to companies anymore.  In the Internet Age, when people can post immediate updates on Facebook and Twitter to share their latest concerns with the world, it’s impossible for companies to hide behind million-dollar ad campaigns and corporate marketing-speak. If a company’s advertising is wildly inconsistent with the truth of the company’s work, people will know – and they won’t be afraid to voice it.

So how do your back up your marketing message within your ad campaigns? Use metrics.

Using facts & metrics as a foundation for your marketing messages

Out of all the thousands of things that you potentially could say to describe your company and what it stands for, how do you distill the essence of what your company is all about?

The problem with most advertising is not that it’s actively deceptive, but that it’s arbitrary. Companies seem to just pluck words out of the air. (“We have the best quality, service and value!” What does that mean?)

In the worst cases, an arbitrary marketing message can even lead to legal trouble for your company – if a competitor sues you for making false claims, or if a customer sues you for failing to keep your promises.

Ultimately, when advertising is arbitrary, customers start to question whether or not it is truthful. We are living in a time of vanishing trust. Customers are more suspicious than ever of claims and promises made by companies – and with good cause! The only way to show a customer that what you are saying is truthful is to prove it – with metrics as evidence of past performance.

Part of the Smart Advantage Competitive Advantage process is to help companies develop marketing messages that are grounded in past results and measurable data. Past performance is often the best indicator of future performance – if a company has a proven track record of delivering results, new customers are more likely to buy from them.

Some examples of marketing messages based on “past performance:”

  • “Last year, our construction firm completed 98% of projects on time and under budget.”
  • “Our grocery stores were awarded a prize from a local farming organization for offering the state’s largest selection of locally grown organic produce.”
  • “Our lawn care firm has achieved compliance certification with 100% of state and federal environmental safety requirements for the past 10 years.”

All of these marketing messages are specific, measurable and fact-based.

Don’t get caught in a legal mess with an arbitrary or misleading marketing message – or worse, don’t destroy your brand reputation by “lying” to your customers. Not only is it the wrong thing to do, but it won’t work for long. In the Internet Age – the truth will always surface.

Fortunately, companies don’t have to fear the truth. By developing marketing messages around your competitive advantages, and including data to back up what you are stating can make the truth your ally in telling the story of your company.

The best marketing messages can ultimately help build trust. Even at a time when customers are more skeptical than ever, it is still possible to increase goodwill and build lasting relationships by credibly sharing the “true story” of what your company does best.

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