Marketing cannot cover up for company shortcomings

An interior designer would find it perverse if you invited him or her to your house for a consultation, only to have to wade through decrepit furniture, stacks of newspapers, and plates of food on the ground. Such things are not done.

An interior designer would find it perverse if you invited him or her to your house for a consultation, only to have to wade through decrepit furniture, stacks of newspapers, and plates of food on the ground. Such things are not done.

But in marketing, such things are sadly routine, as clients invite agencies to pitch a campaign on the positive while completely ignoring the trash on the floor.

This happened quite literally for Renegade Marketing, an integrated firm that had pitched business to a major brand in the retail arena. That brand wished to find an agency to convey the positive aspects of its overall vision.

Unfortunately Renegade's research found that the attributes tied to the brand were unpleasant terms like "dirty" and "scammers." Noah Brier, creative lead, said the agency had the temerity to give the potential client the truth. The client's response: "You're calling our baby ugly?" Yes, it was, Renegade said. The potential client, seeking a more traditional approach, chose representation elsewhere.

Ugly babies are nothing new in the corporate world. Indeed, many of the world's most recognizable brands have spotty complexions. Customer service is often the prime example of a corporate ugly baby syndrome. Rather than stopping, dropping, and rolling toward a presentable customer service offering that leaves customers both satisfied and confident in a decision to continue to patronize the company, PR people have to attempt a scattershot approach to salvage relationships with customers who blog about it after a poorly compensated customer service rep gets snippy with someone who refuses to remain with the company.

What Renegade was getting at - and what bears repeating - is that marketing is not spackle, and a well-plotted marketing campaign needs to also acknowledge and address product shortcomings. Marketing means very little if it's not addressing the foundational issues affecting a brand.

Not today, at least, where information trades so freely and rapidly. Potential customers know much more about your wares then you might like. Your $40 million ad campaign is treated with a tremendous amount of skepticism - much less credible than a consumer's best friend's opinion of your brand.

Ugly babies need a whole lot of love, not just some designer clothing. Ignoring the facts in the pursuit of a sanguine marketing strategy isn't just foolish, it can be terminal.

Because if empowered consumers experience one thing - and have four acquaintances concur - do you really think they're going to trust your slick campaign over their own world view?

This is why marketers need to hold more sway over every facet of the corporate experience. It's the job of the communications pro to anticipate problems. If a pitching agency feels it must tell a company to clean up its act, then it's already too late.

Companies can no longer ignore their shortcomings or view a situation as intractable. The only stubborn reality is that ugly is ugly, and marketing can no longer serve as makeup.

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