Original post : 1 Feb 2012

Making a virtue out of weakness

Integrity & honestyTrust is one of the most important factors in our decisions to buy. Do we trust the company to deliver? Can the product be trusted to work? What if things go wrong - can we trust that our problems will be put right? 

And we use lots of different signals to reach our conclusion about whether and who to trust: brand and image, promotional messages, customer reviews & testimonials, etc. However, don't be mislead into thinking that you have to paint a 100% rosy picture in order to be seen as honest and trustworthy! Confessing to being less than perfect can be a real boost to your integrity.

Evidence from the science of persuasion (a book by Goldstein, Martin & Cialdini) suggests that showing some minor weakness can make your overall case that much stronger. A study showed that lawyers admitting to a weakness in their case before the opposition could mention it were rated as more trustworthy. And job applicants admitting to some limitations have been shown to be invited to more interviews than those whose CVs are only positive. You might also have better luck selling your car if you point out some of the small flaws before the prospective buyer finds them out for themselves.

Why might this information be important to marketers? Well, because it suggests that you don't have to paper over all the cracks when communicating to and with customers. In fact admitting to a few cracks may make you seem a better bet than the competition. 

Volkswagen famously employed this technique with the Beetle, playing on its ugliness made their claims about better fuel consumption and affordable price that much more trustworthy and believable. In short, more persuasive. 

Customer testimonials that are over the top glowing and positive can, it follows, have the reverse effect. While companies that present a more balanced set of reviews of their products and services can gain brownie points for being honest.

I'm not suggesting that you deliberately go looking for negative reviews but that you do resist the urge to totally sanitise any hint of criticism from statements you use. And it might make you think differently if you are worried about opening your company up to comments on social media - the odd problem can work in your favour. 

Of course, this only works if you have other REAL strengths that you can highlight once you've admitted to the MINOR weakness - no one wants to be buy from someone boasting of being bottom of the league tables - but it's whole different way of looking at how you put your messages together. Honesty is indeed the best policy!


Yes, we should be proud to be human - rather than apologetic because we are 'only human'!
Comment by Sharon - 7 Feb 2012 20:23
Good article Sharon - it's all about 'being human' and the problem with people seeming to be super heroes is that although you suspect they may have a skid mark in their pants, they'd never admit it (strange analogy I know!). It works the other way as well - when we initially speak to potential clients there is little admittal that they've made mistakes (in their online marketing in our case). However, it's possible that by us saying something like: "in our experience, at least 90% of companies who create their own Adwords campaigns have made some damaging errors so it's not an exclusive club", it acts as an open door for potential client to admit where they think they've gone wrong. This works in two ways because they don't feel 'stupid' (from the mistakes they've made) because many others have done the same before them, and a line in the sand is drawn, from where positivity can evolve and we see them as 'human' and receptive to change.
Comment by Andy Harris - 4 Feb 2012 08:32
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