You are no doubt familiar with some of the huge corporations that have been caught being insincere in their marketing and not really living the values they say their brand stands for. A prime example: British Petroleum built its marketing around being green and investing in renewable energy. And the campaign was working for them – spectacularly! Right up until their shoddy safety practices resulted in the explosion on the Deep Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the devastating release of more than 5 million barrels of oil. The environment wasn’t the only thing destroyed in this situation.
Closer to home – A patient advocate accompanied her client to a medical practice that advertised itself as being a patient-centered medical home. Now there are very specific criteria and a process to go through to become recognized by the NCQA (National Committee for Quality Assurance) as a “patient-centered medical home” (PCMH). It is not something to be thrown around lightly. This patient has multiple health issues and sees several different specialists. She and her advocate were looking for exactly the type of help that PCMH’s promise.
Unfortunately that was not what they encountered at this practice. Instead they got a physician who was not interested in learning about the patient’s medical history or in coordinating care across her spectrum of need. He only wanted to concentrate on what was immediately in front of him and was not open to listening and answering questions. So much for fulfilling the basic foundation pieces of being a patient-centered medical home.
When the advocate confronted the physician about his practice advertising itself as a PCMH, she asked him whether the services she was requesting for her client weren’t part of what a PCMH did. The doctor backpedaled and tried to deflect the issue by stating they were “working toward that designation.” In other words, they wanted to be associated with all the positive things such a designation would infer but he didn’t feel obligated to do the things required to actually be a PCMH?
But more to the point for marketers, this doctor was insincere and as a result of that, his entire practice came across as not living its truth. As Jonah Sachs points out in his excellent book, Winning the Story Wars, insincerity is one of marketing’s five deadly sins that doom your efforts.
Back to our doctor and patient – here is an example of a smallish practice in a mid-size city that is destroying its credibility without even knowing one of its own players is the cause. In this age of instant social media and tweets spread around the world in minutes if not seconds, a brand cannot afford to be insincere. And the entire organization has to live the truth of the values on which the organization is based. It has to be thoroughly authentic.
As a marketing professional you may be thinking that it’s not your responsibility to ensure the entire organization is on board with your brand story. All too often writers and marketing professionals are held accountable for result without being given the authority to make them happen. We’re put in charge of a team pulled from various levels and departments and told to make the project happen. No new title (or large raise in pay) is included. Just a group of people who may or may not support the project. They all report to other people and have what they view as real responsibilities beyond this project that they feel are more pressing. How do you make that happen?
First be sure that people who should be actually are involved in the project. Then ensure that powers-that-be at the company have already, or are getting, everyone on board. Point out to them the importance of being authentic. I am not above using a horror story such as the BP debacle or the doctor’s office example to drive the point home. Also, take a look at whatever info you can about the company to see that the message they want you to send through your story aligns with what the company is about and that there are no business lines or projects (including philanthropic endeavors) that conflict with it.
Having a great brand story and using your corporate values in your marketing won’t fly if you are not authentic. Your potential clients, your project team, and the general public at large will see through you and call you out on it. And that could lead to your worst nightmare.
The moral of this story – Be who you are. And to the best of your ability, ensure that the company you’re marketing for or writing for, is willing and able to be true to their values.