Actions and experience overtake words…
You see the ad on TV for the casual restaurant chain; beautiful food, luscious, mouth-watering dishes redolent in bright colorful hues with freshly-made steam stunts and sizzle sound effects designed to get that mouth watering. You might eat the screen.
We’re confident the chain brand minders see these displays of gastronomic splendor as adoring portraits of what they want consumers to believe. You can almost taste the flowing, cascading drawn butter. But then…there’s the actual experience. You can also see the disappointment train hurtling towards the taste buds at break-neck speed, when in reality the product itself can’t reasonably fulfill the promise envisioned in the marketing.
Over-cooked proteins running along side the previously freezer-burn state of ingredients comes through in chewy textures and dryness that slams head-on into the saucy, just-ripe, fresh product pictorial. Imagery can be artfully arranged on beautiful plates displayed in the advertising. If everyone could just eat the ad, please!
What’s the price of breaking a promise and expectation?
What is presented as hand crafted comes through as factory made, and in that bright shining moment the aura of disenchantment comes home to roost. Yes you can cynically declare, “sure but what did they expect, it’s a chain restaurant after all, not some high-end white tablecloth place.” Even in the silver service trade the same experiences of historic letdown can be had when chefy epicurean food doesn’t ring true and questions arise about who is really behind the kitchen stove.
Just beyond the restaurant service levels, dining room experience, wait times, order accuracy, cleanliness, friendliness and all-around happiness-inducing procedures, lurks the opportunity to either delight or dissatisfy.
Across the continuum of retail experiences from supermarkets to clothing retailers to department stores, boutiques and beyond, everyday there are moments available to wow and surprise or participate in an epic fail. In today’s digital culture, the reality, broad-daylight moments can be relayed to communities of friends or fans in mere seconds -replete with accompanying photography or video to verify the facts.
True experience is key. The validation of assertions in marketing is so incredibly important, we, at Emergent, have built an entire marketing model around trust creation. We call it Validation Marketing. The price of failure to build trust is just too great. Reputation is everything and reality is the truth serum administered daily by measuring the gap between promise, purpose and actual proof.
The decline of marketing effectiveness has often been laid off to the “interruptive” tactics of forcing people to gulp down sales messages. Now that consumers have control over media, the force-feeding is about gone. Persuasion sits on the garbage pile of old-line mass media ploys – a communications dog that just won’t hunt anymore as consumers click to avoid the onslaught.
However we have another aligned explanation: the wink-wink of imagined expectation vs. authenticity served early and often, has constructed a concrete chasm between brands and their users. You cannot underestimate the fallout, the insidious rust and corrosion that’s heaped on brand/consumer relationships when ‘actual results may vary’ stings the hardest. It happens all too often when what someone thought would occur inside the store or product package gives way to the “the little white lie” that was shaped with cinematic story in the marketing.
Transparency reigns supreme
There have been too many trips to disappointment junction. What we now have is a belief breach in the brand relationship. If the product or store experience doesn’t match the marketing is it wrong to go there in the first place? It might be.
Every brand, every business today lives in a glass house. What can be known will be known digitally, quickly and by ever-larger audiences. So the distance between anticipated outcome and actual experiences must be closed. The trophy in the battle for future growth will go to those marketers who understand the significance of this behavior principle. Sweating the details of how everything works to deliver on expectations is required. What you say, especially do and provide must all match up.
How does an organization assure that the truth is told rather than fiction? If the truth about the product is sub-optimal, fix the product – ditto store experience. By the way, the product and experience IS the marketing.
When transparency is embraced as a marketing principle, the move to ‘reveal all’ changes the paradigm of how plans, programs and communications are built. If you are amply proud of your product and store experience because the real encounter and formula is indeed terrific, then pulling the communications curtain open a bit wider becomes more comfortable, do-able.
- Trust sits at the core of everything in marketing and in business. Having respect for the consumer’s welfare and intelligence should share equal stature in how strategies are created. Employing trusted sources and voices as part of the marketing mix are vital to helping validate what is promised.
This is the price of admission, now, to a brand relationship. It’s a 360-degree approach to marketing and planning that recognizes how all aspects of what a brand or store or restaurant does and how it performs must be factored into the trust equation.
What delivery on the promise looks like:
- SweetGreen’s promise of devotion to fresh, real produce ingredients is true and lives in the product experience.
- Starbuck’s assertion as a third-place of social experience is for the most part, a true thing (some recent behavioral missteps a note-able exception).
- Apple’s promise of intuitive product experience is for the most part, true.
- Amazon’s delivery of a friction-less e-commerce shopping environment bears truth daily.
For every true there’s many more that routinely blow the tire between what’s promoted and what happens. The organization’s total commitment to optimal quality and experience is required BEFORE communications are designed.
Communications inspired by transparent outreach and allowing consumers inside the tent, will win out over the portraiture that looks great on the surface, but is hiding something else underneath. The really great athletes in virtually every category of competitive sport achieve their fame and fortunes daily by working, sweating, training, trying and performing. They are driven to do so.
Marketing should fully embrace those same operating principles, energy and work ethic. No disguise needed.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.