Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, British comedian John Cleese owes a small part of his fame to the phrase: “Don’t mention the war”. And I’m reminded of that phrase every time I hear a B2B marketing or communication department agonizing over what should or shouldn’t be said in the public arena.
Delivered by his innkeeper character, Basil Fawlty, in an episode of the 1990s TV comedy series Fawlty Towers, John Cleese’s attempts to avoid the topic altogether while serving German guests in the Fawlty Towers restaurant made things (who would have guessed?) worse on a grand scale.
My own particular aversion in this regard concerns the unwillingness of some B2B companies to include errors, unforeseen challenges or similar in their storytelling efforts. Essentially, many good stories have conflict at their core – tales of complexity, difficulty and lament that are then won over in some way by the hero (or the hero product/technology in our case). Yet, I constantly encounter instances where a B2B company has created a case story that reads like a Disney fairytale – just without the dragon, evil stepmother or even a door someone has locked and thrown away the key (possibly by accident).
Such tales of perfection don’t do much for the company’s credibility – that all-important quality in today’s world of transparent, on-line assisted access to the Truth.
But can your company move from covering up the bumps and scratches to letting it all hang out without damaging your brand?
Let me be quite clear on this: there is, undoubtedly, danger lurking in unfettered corporate honesty. It takes a certain style, a careful way with words – or simply, a powerful brand built upon a solid rock of authenticity – to build credibility this way rather than destroy it.
Used properly, however, declaring your company as capable of error makes it – and the people working for it – seem more human, more likeable.
And of course, every error or problem you reveal needs to be accompanied by a description of how your company skillfully tacked and resolved it. If you didn’t solve it, well, don’t mention the…
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