by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Trust and reliance on brands and corporate reputation are at all-time lows, and it blows me away that marketers can't seem to figure out why.

I say that we've forgotten how to tell the truth. Worse, we allow ourselves to get distracted by the latest and smartest ways to avoid it.

The advice from social media experts is that we can't sell to consumers anymore, because commercial speech has little believability and less street cred. So marketing budgets are committed to endless, ongoing conversations that, by definition, cannot lead purposefully to a sales conclusion. The data from companies embarking on such programs is that the measurement of a successful social media tool can't use the same metrics that every other corporate department lives or dies by.

The branded entertainment people believe that companies need to create and propagate content that is otherwise wholly unrelated to what they hope to sell (such as comedy shows and videogames); rather, the stuff should be so much fun that it will engender good vibes that somehow benefit businesses. Time spent being entertained is better than time allocated to enduring a sales pitch, and there's no way to know if it's right, enough, or whether it has done any good.

And now there’s news of "purpose-based marketing," which is a tag from former P&G CMO Jim Stengel for campaigns that define "...what a company does -- beyond making money -- and how it can make its customers’ lives better." The argument for it is that consumers want purpose in their lives, not just to buy things.

Duh. I'm all for it, but I think they're all wrong in thinking that its the responsibility of branding to do any of this. Consumers don't want to be distracted, entertained, or forge emotional relationships with the deeper meaning behind disposable diapers or toothpaste.

They just want to be told the truth. And they want to assign meaning to things in their lives, not have marketers presume to define or deliver it.

Selling isn't evil or even a tainted pursuit; it has just been done so often, and often so poorly, that we've all pretty much given up on it (or simply become too suspicious). For too long, ad people too smart for their own good made a living out of inventing wants and needs when none existed. Promises were made, and brand associations presumed, even if there was no way that, say, a cologne for men would make women swoon, or a new vacuum cleaner would make a housewife the envy of her peers.

We're just too many generations from the invention of all this inventiveness, and the Internet has made it possible for us to see the truths -- or the many different truths -- behind any and every sales claim.

So why not choose to tell consumers the truth about your product or service benefits? Do it creatively. Irreverently. Memorably. But be honest, which means backing up your claims with proof and/or actions. Don't rely on symbolic or token gestures -- or simply on promises -- to transform what you sell into something it isn't. Make your branding the tool that communicates reality to and with your audiences.

Just tell the truth. It just seems like it would be a whole lot simpler than working overtime to avoid or deny it.

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