It’s easy to be skeptical of all advertising. So many companies have been caught making misleading claims, you might assume it’s standard practice. The key, it seems, is to choose your words carefully, try not to get caught, and have a big bank account for lawsuits if you do. Sound pretty cynical? Watching advertising closely can be cynical-making.

It’s especially vexing when companies sell products based on health claims that require lab tests and a cadre of scientists to debunk. An example of this is Airborne, which claimed to help prevent colds and flu by warding off harmful germs and bacteria. I know people who still swear by the product, which was shown during the course of a multi-million dollar lawsuit to simply be an over-priced herbal supplement. Another example is Luminosity. They claimed you could stave off dementia and do better in school by playing online brain games. The Federal Trade Commission disagreed, to the tune of a $2 million fine.

You could say, “caveat emptor; let the buyer beware.” If no one was harmed taking ineffectual tablets or spending time on a game app, what’s the big deal? Setting aside the impact on your soul of unethical business practices, what’s best for your company’s bottom line? Should you always tell the truth, or is stretching the truth the only way to gain a competitive edge?

Thinking long-term

Deceptive advertising can be effective in the short term. But let’s just say you want your business to have longevity and sustained growth. Then it’s important not to be tempted with short-cuts.

A challenge for young businesses is wanting something to be true when you’re not quite there yet. You’ve defined your values which include service level commitments, but you still need to develop the infrastructure or operational capacity to deliver on your promises. This is what I call aspirational marketing.

The problem is, marketing your business with wishful thinking will eventually lead to disappointed customers. And these days, with the help of online chatter, one unhappy customer can influence scores of potential buyers. In the long-run, it’s better to be honest with your promises than risk letting customers down.

Fighting for attention

How, then, does your business stand out in a cacophony of marketing messages? It’s tempting to try to one-up competitors with superlatives like “best,” “extraordinary,” and “superior,” but consumers have become numb to empty claims. There’s simply no way around doing the hard work of identifying the features and messages that make your business stand out and communicating about them creatively and consistently. Tell the story of your brand today, and bring your loyal customers along on the journey as you grow.

Make it true

When you know what you want your company to stand for, you’ll want to design a great marketing campaign and tell the world. If you truly believe you can excel in service delivery, responsiveness, or great value, your communications should reflect that. However, if there’s a claim you want to make but you know you’re not ready to deliver on the promise, you’ve got to make it true before you tout it.

24-hour service, 20-minute delivery, 0% down time; these are all good things. But if you can’t guarantee them; truly guarantee them; you’ll be putting energy into explaining failures rather than building better features for your customers.

More than ever, people are looking for authenticity when they make their buying decisions. Honesty builds trust, trust builds relationships, and relationships lead to long-term sustainability and recommendations.

And that brings us back to your soul. Staying on the up-and up, engineering real features that delight customers, and delivering on your promises will help you sleep at night. And isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day?

If you’d like to explore ways to communicate about your business with authenticity, I’m here to help!