• October 1, 2007
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Required Reading: The Not-So-Odd Couple, Marketing and Integrity

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Marketing is experiencing perhaps its most exciting period ever. And yet, despite the explosion of online promotions, buzz marketing -- and even advertising in grade schools -- marketers face a befuddling paradox: With more purchasing power than ever, consumers are increasingly leery of businesses they don't believe they can trust. Companies that don't deliver trust risk destroying potential consumer goodwill and, ultimately, their businesses. So how can companies build the kind of trust that leads to the retention of loyal customers? The answer is surprisingly simple, says marketing expert Lynn Upshaw in Truth: The New Rules for Marketing in a Skeptical World. CRM magazine's Colin Beasty spoke with Upshaw. CRM magazine:
Today's consumers are smarter than ever, and have learned to resist marketers' efforts. How are marketers reacting to this? Upshaw: Some are responding by doing more research to keep tabs on customer views, such as online surveying. Others are being more proactive in one or more ways, including mounting major PR efforts to attempt to influence public opinion, such as Wal-Mart has done to offset negative publicity about hiring practices. Others are ramping up legitimate -- and sometimes dubious -- viral campaigns. A perfect example was a major packaged goods company [that] rewarded teens with free products for talking to their friends about a client's product. The teens were not asked to identify their status as workers for the buzz company. CRM magazine: Companies that don't uphold their promises and values undermine brand awareness and customer loyalty. How does integrity and truth help drive more loyal customers? Upshaw: Marketers build trust in their products, services, and corporations by establishing brands that consistently deliver what is promised. That trust can be damaged -- or even destroyed -- in short order if customers believe they have been deceived. Ford's revenue, profitability, and brand value plummeted after the Firestone/Explorer scandal of 2000/2001, and the CEOs of Ford, Firestone/U.S., and Bridgestone/Japan ultimately all lost their jobs because of the business and PR fallout. On the other hand, if a company is seen as fundamentally honest and integrity-driven in good times and bad, they buy themselves tremendous leeway when they need it -- as well as permission to fail, as every company will do from time to time. This dynamic can operate on both the micro and macro levels. For example, JetBlue had catastrophic delays because of weather in [early] 2007, but its value proposition and delivered-as-promised customer experience led the company to achieve the second-highest rating among all major airlines just six months later. In short, customers forgive companies that shoot straight -- and can be merciless with those that don't. CRM magazine: What will readers find most interesting about your book? Upshaw: If they are experienced marketers, I think they will find new ways to think about and operationalize integrity. Marketing integrity has often been considered to be a broad guideline and a mere backdrop to plans. It should be the planning backbone for what marketers do strategically and tactically because it may do more than anything else to ensure customer loyalty when skepticism is the default position for many, if not most, customers.
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