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1 Apr

Honesty is the best policy?

Employing a skin-care regime is quite difficult. Often, we don’t know how the products work on us and if the difference is significant, either.

Regardless of all the information and “dermatologically-proven” claims that skin-care products provide, we tend to feel lost on most counts.

Many of us feel fed up when no product seems to impact us significantly and we start seeing ourselves as victims of false marketing.

It is similar to the disbelief we experience when we find too much air in a bag of chips.

We experience what is called — cognitive dissonance. The discomfort experienced after we have purchased or used a product and it hasn’t lived up to expectations is a form of cognitive dissonance. We want it to be good because we paid for it, but it really isn't good, and now we experience this conflict between what we would've liked reality to be versus what it actually turned out to be.

Scorned, we begin to question claims like “recommended by dentists”, “industry leader”, and all sorts of hyperbole thrown at us while marketing or selling the product. The false marketing has made us cynical.

Also, the more ads you see, and the more ads you expect, the less they start working on you.

In fact, the best ads today don't look like ads. Perhaps, this has always been the case.

India is known to be a country with a trust-deficit. This makes it all the more likely for marketers and advertisers to resort to spectacle and humbug in order to sell.

Besides spectacle, using exaggerated statistics to back claims and infusing marketing copy with scientific jargon have conventionally been ways marketers have attempted to solve for this inherent mistrust and skepticism consumers harbour.

But younger businesses these days have understood that transparency works better to sell to an irony-poisoned and cynical audience than empty exaggeration.

For instance, look at the number of businesses that have promoted ‘behind-the-scene’ videos to publicize authenticity.

An interesting example to cite in this regard is the Wine and Gin tasting tours. Indian wine-makers like Sula and Gin makers have, in fact, ingeniously made events in order to promote their authenticity. Sula conducts wine-tasting tours and also hosts a music festival. In addition to educating customers about their products, such tours also become ways to humanize the brand.

Brands like The Whole Truth Foods are making a concerted effort at nutritional myth-busting and using that to sell products with transparency.

Even with the kind of TV ads being made, there is a marked shift towards using humour and irony, not facts and figures to sell.

Here’s my understanding of why this is happening.

  • Startups don’t have the funds to commission extensive research studies as a way to prove the authenticity of products.
  • The focus has shifted towards unbundling products from a large category basket allowing brands to document every process and thought that goes behind creating the product. Quality over quantity. Depth over breadth. Because depth and quality indirectly signal authority and command pricing power.
  • Social media and network effects ensure that if brands are found to be misleading, they’re brought to book. Repairing perceptions scattered over social media is difficult for brands without deep pockets.
  • Visual communication has become extremely accessible. Creating videos showcasing behind-the-scenes footage of all the processes behind the production is highly encouraged.
  • Customers have access to overwhelming amounts of information and are constantly aware of the tricks and trades of different industries. It is difficult to use jargon anymore and hide behind expert claims to sell products. Frankness and honesty are appreciated.
  • When screens are riddled with ads, it's probably a good strategy to advertise your brand and product without coming across as advertising. I'm guessing that we, as a species, have now collectively developed a better algorithm in our heads to identify and block ads than ad-blockers themselves.

Transparency has become the currency to buy trust.

In the long run, this pressure to be transparent fosters creativity.

When your product can’t hide behind false data-backed claims to sell, customer feedback decides if your product will thrive.

Selling with more honesty also creates shorter feedback loops. Customer feedback can be incorporated without suffering any cognitive dissonance between messaging and reality.

If you pick the transparent marketing route, you’re also compelled to play the long game. The customers you attract are sold on the product itself, not some communication driving it. And to a certain extent, you feel confident in delivering the value you're marketing.

What are some ways in which you’re incorporating transparency in your sales and marketing process?

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