If brands need to be transparent, why pretend about who you are?

17th September 2012 | Posted in Branding

Social media is making business honest, whether it wants to be or not. There are far fewer places to hide. Anyone in any way associated with your brand – customers, employees, partners, competitors, leaders – all have something to say. Disaffected stakeholders can blow the whistle on a company about anything, any time.

From a public relations point of view, the answer is to take the initiative to be honest and transparent. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, get out there and explain what’s happened, and how you’re going to fix it, and then tell the world how you’re getting on with fixing it. That could be anything from oil spills to finger-pinching pushchair mechanisms. Businesses are learning the hard way that transparency is the way forward. (This way of thinking is laid out in much greater depth in “Brand Anarchy” by Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington.)

It’s surprising to me then, as a copywriter, how often the old-style way of thinking permeates marketing. This is how a company wants to present itself, so this is what it wants me to say about it. It’s not lies. It’s just not quite true either.

I imagine that the thinking goes that if a company tells a story about itself, the vast majority of its audience won’t think too hard about the veracity of its claims. But enough will that doubt will slip in. The readers might just think – if you’re being iffy about the small things, what about the big stuff?

Here’s an example of what I mean. Companies who have thought a lot about their brand will give me as their copywriter a document about their brand voice, which includes details on how they want to talk to their customers. This is a Very Good Idea, and if you haven’t done one, you should. I’ll talk about that another day.

However, two companies, born and grown up in the UK, and still based here, have demanded that I write in US English. For one it’s just a matter of putting “z”s where I would naturally put “s”s and taking the “u” out of words like colour and favor. For another though, we the copywriters get the content thrown back at us if it’s not written the way “Americans” would write it. (Yes, I know, why didn’t they get Americans to write it? I don’t know – I wasn’t involved in the pitch but I suspect it was budgets.)

This is a company that does have an amazingly good story to tell. I believe in the messages it’s putting over – I’ve interviewed customers whose lives have changed for the better in a serious way because of its products.

So why pretend to be something you’re not? If you’re a British company doing incredibly well, why not say so? If you’re afraid your marketplace will think less of you for being what you are, well that’s a tough one, but you will be found out with just a little digging.

If transparency is the rule for brands today, then it’s got to work right through the business. In the day-to-day stuff as well as the crises. And definitely in the copywriting.


If you found this blog interesting, you can find out more about Wrightwell’s approach to copywriting by visiting the web site.

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