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Our Refreshing Age of Honesty

March 3rd, 2013
Honesty as a marketing strategy


Just as technology ushered in an era of deceit in some ways — hence, films and television shows like “Catfish” — I have recently sensed a backlash, an insistence by consumers who demand truth in advertising. Empowered with so many new digital tools and products, along with the abundance of information available online, simply put, your customers are more powerful than they have ever been. My case in point is former CEO Andrew Mason’s goodbye letter to the Groupon team upon his termination for poor performance:

“After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today.”

It gets even better, enough to prompt some analysts and business blog pundits to call this the greatest CEO departure letter of all time. Mason continued:

“If you’re wondering why. . . you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.”

I recently read another article in The Times about the success of an entrepreneur in Virginia whose company was missing consecutive payrolls and in dire straights in 2009, and who flipped his marketing strategy, went rogue and started an inbound program of honest content that — gasp! — actually answered his customers’ questions.

A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions

Marcus Sheridan, whose company, River Pools and Spas, was suffering in the early years of the downturn, decided to publish a list of the best pool installation companies in Virginia — including his core competitors — and not include his own company.

Sheridan had been spending about $250,000 annually on outbound programs that used broadcast and local media outlets to promote their pools. But as the recession gripped his customers and as buying, begging and other traditional methods of marketing failed, he did something radical. He began publishing answers to questions online for anyone interested in learning more about pools. Today, River Pools and Spas has rebounded to reach its pre-2007 revenues and Mr. Sheridan is considered a web marketing guru, lecturing at conferences on his unconventional tactics that were clearly successful enough to turn around an ailing company.

The Times article shared a brief Q&A:

“The question I was always asked within the first two minutes of talking to customers was, how much does a fiberglass pool cost? Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their Web sites. But I said, I don’t care what the question is, we’re going to answer it,” said Sheridan.

*     *     *

We’re in the era of the anti-spin. It’s a new demand by consumers and a response by savvy marketers who are hearing and heeding the call.  Unfortunately, even as consumers become increasingly empowered with knowledge (read: reviews) through the web, there’s a growing tide of frustration over this whole sequestration debacle. Watching the bandying back and forth between House Speaker Boehner and President Obama — between the doctrines and party allegiances of stubborn Republicans and Democrats — has become an exhausting, cynical experience that threatens our nationalism and loyalty. As it turns out, through the grace of our taxpayer contributions, this finite group “inside the beltway” really does live in a protected, impenetrable cocoon.

Truth in advertising works and we’re seeing more of this as marketers understand the power of the modern consumer. Now if only Congress and the President could learn the same lesson.


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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 3rd, 2013 at 11:50 am and is filed under Advertising, Brand Identity, Brand Image, Business, Marketing, Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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