A recent article by Shep Hyken about how unethical marketing damages brand reputation struck a chord. It’s true, of course, but I’m concerned a much more deleterious effect is lurking within companies right now – misalignment. Let me explain.
- Unethical – Subscribing to the idea that unethical marketing is bad requires no more imagination than saying that “lying to customers is bad.” It is. Unethical marketing requires a fair amount of willful malevolence which lies at one extreme along the continuum of possibilities, and is also uncommon.
- Incompetent – At the other end lies simple incompetence. I trust most organizations hire and develop marketers with skills that cover many required job dimensions (here’s a good list). Some may be particularly skilled at market positioning, others at demand generation, while still others excel at market segmentation, and so on. Perhaps few are well versed in all attributes, but fewer still are unskilled in all.
Happily, I have not run into many marketers operating at either end of the spectrum. In my experience, unethical marketers are as rare as incompetent ones. Instead, what seems much more common as it relates to the customer experience and corporate growth is a misalignment of promise and reality. I suggest we think of proper alignment in two ways: needs and capabilities.
- Needs Alignment – Simply put, understanding what a customer requires is step one. Not just what they want, but what their business aims are. What problems are they trying to solve? What goals does their organization have for them? How are they trying to address their customers’ objectives? (More on those concepts here.)
- Capability Alignment – Then, companies determine how to meet the customer needs. (Or IF they should meet those needs as I described in an article titled “Have You Hired the Wrong Customers.”) Company capabilities (realities) should drive the marketing message and efforts. Mistakes of the “unethical” kind get made when the marketing message makes promises the company can’t keep.
As Mr. Hyken ably states, unethical marketing damages brand reputation (and organizational trust). In my experience, the problem isn’t one of ethics, but of alignment. If the customer needs X but a company only does Y (reality), it can be tempting to overstate capabilities (promise) to win the sale. What manifests itself as unethical marketing may actually be an organization stretching to bridge the gap between needs and capabilities. The pivot point is that in winning the sale, companies very often lose the customer.
In my next post I’ll offer some thoughts on when/why investing in Customer Success Managers (CSM) makes sense. Hint: in addition to enhancing growth, they also mitigate misalignment.