Think back to the best commercials or ads you’ve ever seen. Are they CGI geckos or fake families jumping with joy about $20 jeans? Probably not.

The commercials that seem to stick out and stay with us for years (or even decades!) are the ones that are honest. Maybe there’s some humor in there for good measure, but for the most part, honesty really is the best policy when it comes to marketing.

This translates well to digital marketing, as customers are often a few Google searches away from knowing the truth about your products (either through articles about your business or online reviews). Because of this, it doesn’t pay to try to spin your company’s online campaigns into something more positive.

In today’s internet, I can almost guarantee a campaign would be more successful if it said something to the effect of, “I’m sorry we sucked, we are trying not to any more” instead of “Here are 3 customers who love us, no matter what thousands online may have said.”

A good example of this angle of marketing is Domino’s. A few years ago, they ran commercials saying they knew their customers thought the quality was down. That they knew their product was sub-par. But most importantly, that they were doing everything they could to turn it around.

Furthermore, just this year, they pointed out that a change in their deal to make a specific size of pizza one price every day (instead of only on certain days like it used to be), may have made some customers feel swindled. As a result, they gave away cash and prizes to customers who had bought pizza at the original price.

If only Comcast would embrace a mentality of honest about their current business practices. Instead of changing the names of their cable and internet service, they should’ve run commercials that had audio of terrible customer service calls. Or where they’ve dropped the ball. That would’ve given them an opportunity to explain how they are trying to turn it around. But avoiding their terrible reputation as a company that is difficult to deal with and has often-reported ongoing quality issues isn’t going to help them turn things around.

Here are some of the ways honesty can serve you in your digital marketing efforts:

Customers Don’t Forget About Being Manipulated

To put it bluntly, don’t try to shine up a turd. If your products have well-known quality issues, putting them in new packaging or coming up with a catchier slogan isn’t a good long-term strategy to ensure ongoing sales. It will only serve to make customers upset because they felt like something new meant an improved product or service.

Other ways of manipulation aren’t appreciated either. Don’t make specials confusing or rebates hard to redeem. Don’t push up false demand to make people wait for a product that isn’t what you said it would be.

Customers hate being manipulated into purchasing something that isn’t what was promised. Short-term gains in sales are not worth the long-standing word-of-mouth and negative reviews that are sure to follow. Be honest about what your company offers and don’t be afraid to admit when it’s not as good as something else. Just find an angle that showcases what you offer best and build a campaign from there.

Embrace What People Say About You

Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater that is based in Texas, prides itself on banning cell phone use and talking in their theaters during movies. They warn all their patrons that they will be removed from the theater if someone reports them, with no refund.

That all being said, when a woman complained to customer support about being ejected from the theater for using her phone during a movie, Alamo Drafthouse decided to embrace it. They ran the actual recording of her call as promos in their theater and as a PSA.

This was an ingenious way to take something negative and run with it. So many businesses try to hide from negatives reviews– they either beg Yelp or Google to suppress them or get defensive in their public replies.

But instead of enabling a fight or flight response, how about exalting all your haters and complainers? Create content around a customer’s negative experience and how you fixed it. Or, if the complaints are against something that’s important your brand or mission (like Alamo Drafthouse), consider using it was a way to show customers that your word is gospel.

Listening is a Type of Honesty

Whether it’s your haters online or your most loyal customers, having a successful brand reputation through digital marketing is all about listening. After all, those who leave negative reviews wouldn’t do so if they didn’t care. To leave a review shows that they care. A lot. Take that and harness it to show that you care in return.

All customers (and people, for that matter) want is to be listened to. Showing that you are receptive to that type of connection makes you vulnerable and honest in return. No matter what a customer says, think about how their feedback can improve their experience or someone else’s.

Being honest about your failures, as well as your wins, is really the only way to a true connection with your target audience.

Next time you are working on messaging, focus on what your customers complain about most or what you’ve tried to inflate in the past. Then spill your guts, expose your belly, and tell your customers how you’re fixing it. It’s that type of honesty that will show customers you deserve a chance.

Featured image via Canva.

Kelsey Jones

Kelsey Jones

Founder/Chief Marketing Consultant at Six Stories
Kelsey Jones helps clients around the world grow their social media, content, and search marketing presence. She enjoys writing and consuming all kinds of content, both in digital and tattered paperback form.
Kelsey Jones
Kelsey Jones