We live in an age of economic duress, an age of excess-engendered skepticism about consumption. The quick diffusion of this skepticism, empowered by the Internet, has made the matter particularly pressing.
So it’s no surprise that the world of business -- specifically in the realms of advertising, branding, and marketing -- has to once again ennoble the concept of sincerity, which is to say, they have to simply be sincere and do work that is bounded by and radiates honesty.
Whether on the Web or elsewhere, only sincerity can overcome skepticism; that’s not a particularly inspiring or provocative notion. The problem, however, is that evocation of sincerity is the stuff of turgidity and fakery, because we as a society have destroyed it through misuse and imprecision. In fact, the serpent has swallowed its own tail -- references to one’s own sincerity appear to be driven by unction and inauthenticity.
That can no longer be the case.
Promises, whether of services, products, experiences, ideas, have to be kept. Banal products that promise breakthroughs and transformation; excruciatingly cumbersome Internet experiences that promise “ease” and “balance” (how many times have you spent 30 minutes filling a shopping cart online only to find that you get an error when you try and “check out”?); and base ideas that exist under false cover of “liberation” have no place in a world of sincere marketing.
The single biggest mistake marketers make, whether in traditional media or on the Web, is the attempt to “sell” falsehoods with clever word-play. The second biggest mistake is that they attempt to sell “full identities” and not micro-identities. The third biggest mistake is that they market in a fragmented, inconsistent way, depending on the medium they use.
The secret is that all of these mistakes are the same mistake. They all spring from the same fountainhead of illegitimacy that has gotten us into this spiral.
Take mistake one -- false promises. Don’t say things that you don’t believe to be true about what you are trying to sell. People won’t be fooled in this age of skepticism. They will not buy, and if they do and they are disappointed, the “value” of what they “lost” or the value of what they can “regain” if they press their case looms large enough to warrant action, which includes everything from asking for refunds, rejecting entire brands, or even blogging about bad experiences.
Mistake two, the issue of “full identities,” is a branch of the same poisonous tree. No product or service or experience can ever approximate the fullness of being human. So don’t sell a treadmill or a self-help book with the idea that it might “transform life.” It might help transform (generally a bad word to use, but humor me) your weight or transform your view of “time-management,” but it will not transform your “life.” Be sincere by marketing to micro-identities and following rule one above.
Mistake three is the mistake of context. Websites and magazines, and other “venues” for messages, don’t think, emote, or persuade. They are vectors for messages -- people think, emote, and persuade.
So tell the same thing to everyone. Be sincere.
I sincerely believe what I have written.
— Romi Mahajan is Chief Marketing Officer of Ascentium Corporation. Formerly with Microsoft, he is a frequent speaker and writer on technology and media.