Your customers aren’t stupid, stop treating them like they are

Rebecca Alberico

Rebecca Alberico

Rebecca is a multimedia writer from Toronto, and a former senior writer at luxury lifestyle publication Dolce Magazine. In 2016, Rebecca was awarded the 1st place Golden Circle Award by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for her published editorial on Femvertising. She currently works as an instructional designer in the corporate sector, while keeping her own creative juices flowing through various freelance projects.

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There have been many, many examples of tone-deaf, terrible marketing recently, and it’s annoyed us to no end. If we feel that way, how do you think consumers feel?

In consumer marketing, what’s worse than a condescending or tone-deaf ad? Not many things, that’s for sure. We’ve all been there. You see some poorly thought out content online and think to yourself, “This can’t be real, are they serious?” So you investigate a little further, click the link, maybe browse the comment section to see if other people are on your wavelength. Oh, they totally are. The result? You’ve just fallen into the funnel — you better hope you didn’t engage enough for more sponsored posts to follow you for the next three months. This assumption that consumers will blindly buy anything also extends to other types of advertising — does Kim Kardashian West use the $20 shampoo she promotes? Hell no. Are meal suppressant lollipops responsible for her flat tummy? As if. You’re not falling for it.

If you think about why a particular ad irked you, it’s likely because it was patronizing, false-hearted, or obnoxious. The photo or video was probably super bait-y, with no clear message. The copy may as well have said, “Just buy me, stupid.” Sure, the brand’s digital marketing team is excited because engagement on these posts is probably through the roof. The problem is that most brands don’t realize “all attention is good attention” isn’t true. Brands that are looking to build customer loyalty need to start doing one thing—listening!

Today, fake news, shameless product placements, and shallow scandals flood social media feeds. So much so that it puts customers on the defensive, automatically distrusting branded content — they want to see it to believe it. If they don’t get the answers they’re looking for, you best believe they’ll Google it and call you out later (Pro tip: bad reviews will outlive you). 

Customers love authentic brands, brands that listen to what they need, make them feel smart and empowered. The consumer of the social era buys from businesses that make them feel good and add value to their lives — definitely not those that make them feel stupid or inadequate. It’s the age of the informed customer; they’re clued up. There’s a wealth of information for them to turn to if there’s something they don’t know. 
Customers are talking, and it’s time to hear them. Below are three simple ways to stop the BS and earn positive engagement online.

Ditch the sugar-coated messaging

First thing’s first, you have to get the messaging right. There’s a difference between simple, tight-focused messaging versus cliche-ridden jargon that dances around what the customer needs to know. Overly-sales-y messaging tells your customers that you’re not giving them credit to think for themselves. It tells them that you don’t believe they’re capable of connecting the dots and seeing the bigger picture. So strip the BS messaging about your brand and focus on what your product/service does for them.

On the other hand, while it’s essential to keep your messaging tight, make sure you’re always giving enough context. Where there’s ambiguity, there’s a risk misinterpretation. So what does that look like? Let’s say that you’re a real estate legal firm writing social ads. Your copy and media need to strike that balance between establishing your brand as an authority on the subject, while being accessible to non-lawyers, and at the same time not making them feel that you’re selling “lawyers for dumb-dumbs.” It might seem like a delicate balance — that’s because it is. How about copy that reads like: “We handle the paperwork. You handle getting the kids to help with packing.” It conveys that what they’re doing is just as important as what you are and that you’re working together as a team.

Maintain your authenticity… but be human

When it comes to having an authentic brand voice, sure, there needs to be internal and external alignment. It’s important to keep your brand story, values, and actions consistent across all platforms. However, this doesn’t come at the cost of your personability. Studies are finding that trustworthiness and authenticity are two of the top five brand attributes for Millennials. To add to this, customers are increasingly skeptical about how brands market to them and are becoming less trusting of large corporations. So, if you want your audience to trust you and not feel like you’re just after their wallets, don’t sound like BlandCorp Industries on traditional and social media. 

Where do you start with that mammoth task? You guessed it — knowing your customers. Talk like them and hang out where they do. But, for the love of all things consumer, be authentic. This means that you walk the walk, too. Back up what you’re saying by taking action and supporting the same things that your followers do. 87% of global consumers feel that it is vital for brands to “act with integrity at all times,” valuing authenticity above innovation (72%), and even product uniqueness (71%). This starts with collaboratively telling your story. Grow and let your audience grow with you. Let them find their place in your brand. 
Sure, you can put together a style guide for digital communications, like a road-map to all your brand messaging. I’m not saying that consistency isn’t key when you’re trying to build consumer trust. But remember, these are guidelines, not rules. Authentic brands are flexible and human; robotic ones are not.

Be thought-provoking and empowering

As we’ve established above, authentic brands don’t just talk; they listen. But, the time will come for your brand to join in on the conversation. Here’s where you’ll use your brand’s relevance to add another layer of value for your followers. The recent Black Lives Matter protests have shown that businesses that use their resources to help (rather than just posting hashtags and patting themselves on the back) are the real MVPs of the brand world. But, and I stress — do this for the right reasons. You’re doing this because you care and want to help, not because you want more customers, so put the hashtags down. Put your money where your mouth is and donate to relevant causes. Use your platform as a brand to spotlight black-owned businesses. If you’re going to push content out, don’t pitch or shill your own brand. You’re in a unique position as a subject matter expert in your field, so use your knowledge to educate and inform. If your messaging is authentic and backed up by your actions, your customers will share, engage, and help disseminate your message naturally. Genuinely empowering and thought-provoking messages don’t require requests for reposts or shares.

There are many examples of fails in digital marketing, but often being aloof and insincere can be just as bad as being controversial. Don’t be afraid to “go there” if what you’re doing is the right thing, but just be sure to engage tastefully. 

Remember, the digital marketing world can be an incredible place to share your brand’s story, but it can also be your worst nightmare if you alienate your audience. None of us are perfect, and there will always be difficult customers who are bound to call you out no matter how much you try — don’t worry, those aren’t your people (there totally IS such a thing as a bad customer). But, treat your customers with the respect that they deserve, and they’ll pay it back. Your customers are not stupid, so stop treating them like they are.

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