Look at the mission statements or advertising slogans from local small businesses to not-for-profits to multinational corporations, and it won’t take long to stumble onto the word “integrity.” Organizations that understand the important role trust plays in customer relations are often quick to insert words like “integrity” into their marketing messages. But in the battle for mindshare, integrity has become an unfortunate casualty—reduced to little more than a meaningless buzz word. And I confess that my own industry has been complicit here.
But integrity is much more than a word in a mission statement. And trust is much harder to earn than just saying, “Trust me.”
Recently, a brochure for a local mayoral candidate boasted, “I believe in honesty. I believe in integrity. I believe in accountability.” As a voter I thought, “So what? We all value those things. What I want to know is: How will you achieve those things?”
Which is why every time a client comes to our firm and says, “We want to be perceived as X,” we ask, “Well, are you X?” Challenging clients this way can be awkward, confrontational, and a little unnerving at times. But if we don’t ask this simple question—and seek evidence of same—we risk becoming accomplices in a deception which both misleads consumers and hurts our clients’ business.
A 1992 Gallup poll asked American consumers to rate 26 different professions according to the degree to which they trusted them. Advertising practitioners came in 25th, rating only 8% on ethics.
The world is desperate for individuals and organizations who do what they say they will do. As a marketer, I have a responsibility to get real and tell the truth. If I do that consistently over time, perhaps people will be able to judge the brands vying for their attention better, and arrive at a different view of the marketers who shape those brands.
This post was originally published by Cardus in March, 2011 as a contribution to their compilation titled Integrity and the Entrepreneur.