Tell the Truth, Honestly

We’re all familiar with real estate jargon: “breathtaking,” “stunning,” “exquisite,” “panoramic views”…. Every utterance gushes with superlatives regardless of the miserable condition in which you eventually find the much-lauded property. Most of us are automatically skeptical about the promises and can only wonder at the writers’ imaginations. Some years ago, a British real estate chain decided to reverse this habitual selling style.

Its representatives began describing properties to reflect reality. They told it like it was! Derision replaced desire in the chain’s advertising lexicon; descriptions of London’s apartments and houses became realistic snapshots:

This dump of a house needs more than love to turn it into something anyone can live in. The hallway is less attractive than the worst you can possibly imagine. The walls are flooded with rising damp, and the floors are hardly visible under their covering of dirt.

The question is: Would you dare to employ this strategy? The real estate chain that did so enjoyed enormous success as a result. Suddenly potential investors began reading the ads. In fact, people were so enthusiastic about the approach they actually looked forward to reading them as entertainment — just because they honestly described the properties. Sales increased, real estate agents felt less stressed because it relieved them of the burden of lying, customers appreciated their time wasn’t wasted by visiting false prospects, and clients had the luxury of receiving truly interested buyers rather than misled customers who’d been lured to a property that had nothing to do with their investment criteria.

Now, I receive hundreds of pieces of spam a day. Most of their headlines are utter lies that simply aim to attract my attention. Every time I’m lied to, my estimation of the sender is diminished. Yet an increasing amount of spam, and certainly the great majority of it, resorts to this unproductive falsity!

No brand I can think of has failed by being honest. I’m not asking you to down-sell your proposition, but to simply be honest. Tell it like it is, and add a twist of humor when relevant and required. I’d offer you an online example, but I’ve yet to encounter a model of simple truth in most online brand building.

The fundamental fact is honesty builds trust, and this applies in online brand communications as much as in every other sphere of branding. Credibility is the reward of realism and recognition that things may not be unrealistically perfect. Tell your customers if the battery time on your cell phone is two hours; don’t pretend it’s three. Tell them if delivery time is 14 days; don’t falsely promise 10. If you promise to get back to customers with more information within 24 hours, do it. If you can’t, make a promise you can keep. I’d rather lower customers’ expectations and surprise them with more than they expected than disappoint them with less than I promised — and make them an enemy of my brand for life.

The Internet seems to have become a forum for lies. To differentiate your brand from the rest of online content, stick to the truth. Honestly, I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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