In the last couple of weeks I’ve been traveling about training and speaking in Atlanta, Oregon, Las Vegas and San Diego. As you might imagine, I live a highly evaluated professional life. Nearly every training, speaking engagement, and workshop I do involves an evaluation. I always review the evaluations, but this month something in particular struck me. In numerous evaluations as well as follow up e-mails and verbal comments, participants expressed their appreciation for my “honesty.” I’m sure somewhere along the way the comment has been made before, but this month the word was repeated from different events and various individuals all over the country. I was so struck by this that I gathered the evaluations and e-mails to assess this cumulative feedback. Over the course of eight separate events and roughly two hundred individuals the word honesty or some version of it appeared twenty four times or in about twenty percent of the evaluations.
It struck me that honesty is a strange word to choose to evaluate a speaking engagement or training. So I lifted sentences and categorized the comments to better understand where the word was coming from and what it really meant to my brand and my work. While the comments were flattering – I’m not interested in indulging my ego. Rather, I’m interested in learning why something resonates with those I serve so I can better understand how I present my work.
What I learned was that people value humanity and vulnerability and THAT is what they perceive as honest. I might use the word jackass when I’m speaking or tell a true story about my own failure. I tell stories about when I’ve fallen both figuratively and literally speaking. My ability to share these stories creates a safe space for training and learning and does something else – it compels people to trust me.
I want to be very clear. I’m not particularly impressed with myself. Frankly, I’m usually looking hard at what is wrong with what I’m doing. The reason I evaluated this notion of honesty is simply because it was so prevalent. I deliver this assessment to you because I think it reveals an important lesson for all of us.
Consumers are sophisticated. They know when they’re being marketed and sold to and they aren’t buying anybody’s BS. They crave the truth in its naked and sometimes raw form so if we deliver that, we purchase credibility and trust in the marketplace.
Posturing and gesturing our most perfect self isn’t nearly as appealing and comforting as the truth. Posting real reviews, owning our mistakes, and allowing ourselves to laugh at our own failures are the things that create honest relationships.
Honesty and integrity are certainly values of my life and my business, but I wasn’t consciously constructing content to inspire this response. I merely deliver who I am and assume the risks and rewards as they come.
But should a business strive for this vulnerability and honesty in their own brand? Can it be consciously constructed and if so, what’s the benefit?
I think it can be achieved deliberately and I think the benefit is that you build a ferociously loyal following. The most foundational premise of sales and marketing is trust. If you establish and maintain trust you maintain the integrity of the relationship with your customer.
Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability has reached over seven million viewers. SEVEN MILLION! Coincidence? I don’t think so. Honesty, transparency or vulnerability – choose any word you like – we crave the authentic and seek the genuine. Businesses small and large can learn something significant about the role of vulnerability in marketing.
That old phrase truth in advertising has come to mean something deeper. The modern world demands something deeper. Is there risk in this new world? YES! But I think of the photo of the sandwich board sign that went viral that read something like, ‘Come in and try what one guy on Yelp called the worst sandwich he’s ever eaten.’ This genuine humor and acknowledgment of criticism is an opportunity. Consumers will be won and lost in this brave new world based on our capacity to embrace our truth and deliver our whole selves to the market. Consumers will choose the whole truth flaws and all, over a lie.
As you develop your brand and deliver your service or product to the marketplace conceive of the best way to build trust through vulnerability. Your customers might forgive a misstep or a failure, hell it may even make you more endearing, but they will never tolerate a lie or a brand that lacks authenticity.