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Is honesty the best policy?

Honesty from brands isn’t as common as they’d like you to believe. When it comes to storytelling, is honesty the best policy?

Honesty from brands isn’t as common as they’d like you to believe. When it comes to storytelling, is honesty the best policy?

Think of something that cannot be found out. Having a hard time?

From secret government emails to Colonel Sanders’ 11 Herbs and Spices, almost 100% of all information can be uncovered by a simple online search. Networks of bots and passionate netizens alike weed out incorrect and misleading stories on platforms ranging from Wikipedia to Facebook. The digital world is transparent, and it has an almost allergic intolerance to any lack of authenticity.

That should be enough of a reason to keep your brand storytelling honest. If not, here’s 4 more reasons:

  1. The risks aren’t worth it

Your brand tells the story of your company’s existence. If the point of view that you present isn’t based on truth and authenticity, why should your company exist? Today’s consumers, particularly millennials, will hunt down and share any duplicity on social media like a digital hunting trophy. The risks just aren’t worth it.

Many companies and people, from “eco-friendly” carmakers to “healthy” fast food companies, have tried playing fast and loose with the truth, and suffered the consequences. In most cases that point of revelation also represented the peak of their brand value. Some have recovered, but why make years of hard work for yourself?

We are living in an age that doesn’t forget a single misrepresentation, cover-up, or slight to an audience’s intelligence. Save yourself the pain and invest in a point of view that you can stand by till the end.

  1. Honest stories have more punch

People learn from stories more than they do facts. And as anyone who appreciates a good film or novel knows, perfection does not make for a strong narrative. It’s much more likely to raise scepticism – or worse, boredom – than a story that acknowledges the flaws of its’ characters.

From a brand perspective, it’s a lot more interesting and productive to just state that you’re not perfect, and tell your stakeholders exactly how. The strongest points of view are those which don’t claim to have all the answers, or to do the right thing all the time: they just need to demonstrate a desire to do things better.

Elon Musk’s point of view – that traffic congestion is a blight on the world – acknowledges that he doesn’t necessarily have the right solution. But by following up on his words with some literally boring developments, Musk has demonstrated that he’s doing his best to live by the point of view that he’s articulated. And his fans love him for it.

  1. Honesty loves company

You want real people – real customers, who make actual purchases – talking about your company, product or service. Word of mouth is still the most credible source of influence in South-East Asia. And nobody wants to talk about something that turns out to be fake.

To build a community of advocates, people need to feel safe.  And people feel a lot safer supporting something that’s not too far off the ground. Don’t build a point of view that overstates your merits, hypes up an otherwise innocuous issue, or relies exclusively on paid influencers to gain traction. If you can say something that’s true to your brand’s values and matters to people, it’ll spread naturally – any investment you do in amplifying it should just speed up that process.

  1. Competitive advantage

When the market is overwhelmed with PR messages all screaming “Read me!”, many brands up the ante: louder voices, bigger claims, more outrageous tactics to gain attention. That’s no way to win over consumers already drowning in content.

The better strategy: tell it like it is. Cut to the heart of what your brand delivers, stating simply the facts and striving for pragmatism instead of hyperbole. Draw links that others may not see – like comparing digital transformation to origami – instead of exaggerating claims. Doing so not only makes your point of view stand out; it also subtly highlights that your brand doesn’t have to shout to make itself heard. And that inspires confidence amongst customers, no matter where they come from.

Well thought-out, authentic points of view are scarce amongst brands these days. And as with any rare commodity, that makes them all the more valuable. Build your POV on your brand’s values, say something that encourages audiences to think a little more, and avoid anything remotely untrue. After all, you want your brand to get the most exposure possible – so why give it any reason to hide?

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