Honesty is the smartest policy
5 min read - by Jamie MacDow - Group Account Director
As a discipline, marketing can’t claim to have been what might be called a goldmine of honesty and humility over the years.
Nor is it these days. But B2B brands that are brave enough, or perhaps even crazy enough, to change that now stand to win big. So writes Jamie MacDow, Group Account Director at twogether.
Honesty is the best policy. Or so the saying goes.
But is it? Honestly? And in marketing of all places? You know what, yeah. I think it just might be.
Okay, you’re going to need some convincing. I can almost hear the scorn. Fair enough. So let’s cast our minds back to a simpler time. No, not just pre-covid. Way further than that. To 1990 in fact. Now I’m not sure what you were up to back then (maybe you weren’t even around quite yet), but I was living in London and about to start my first agency job when I saw this film called Crazy People.
Starring Dudley Moore and Darryl Hannah (who were still A-listers), it’s about Emory, this English advertising guy who, feeling jaded with the industry, decides to start producing – yep, that’s right – brutally honest ads for his agency’s clients.
“Volvos. They’re boxy, but good.”
“United Airlines. Most of our passengers get there alive.”
His boss, perhaps not unreasonably, thinks Emory has completely lost it and so has him committed to a psychiatric hospital to ‘recuperate’. The thing is, the ads end up working.
To be honest (there’s that word again), Crazy People was never going to win too many awards (the ads were the best bit). But it’s memorable enough for me to be here writing about it 32 years later, and wondering whether Emory’s idea really was completely hatstand after all. Now just to be clear, and lest you think I too am crazy, I’m not remotely suggesting that B2B brands should focus on their negatives:
“Apple. Pricey but pretty.”
“SpaceX. Great. But best take our founder with a pinch of salt.”
What the people want
What I am saying is that they could certainly benefit from employing just a little more honesty and humility when it comes to content creation. Being brave enough to dial down their patter, their short-termism, and their expectations, and focus more on delivering what their audiences actually want.
What if we start really putting the audience first? (Stay with me here). What if we identify what they want, produce amazing content that fulfils that requirement absolutely, BUT for example (and here’s where eyebrows will rise sharply) not include a CTA to drive pipe?
What if we give them what they want without immediately asking for something – anything – in return?
I know, crazy right? “What about our targets?!”, you’ll cry. “Our lead-ravenous sales teams? Our pipeline? Budgets? Bottom line? Profits? If we’re not actively selling to our audiences we’re not making any money, and if we don’t make any money, we die.”
I get it. Of course those things are vital. (And my boss is probably warming up the strait jacket as we speak.) But stop and think about it for a minute and, like some brands already have, you’ll see just how short-termist and short-sighted all that really is. And the issues that that in turn creates.
Because in forever trying to force the pace, in always racing headlong for bottom line, in pushing to get into market first and fail fast, we’re often actually harming our sales prospects rather than enhancing them. Encouragingly, some brands seem to have realised this and are beginning to engage in ‘brave marketing’ as a result. Crucially though, they’re not doing it because it’s brave, but because it’s extremely bloody smart.
Expertise to hand
And here’s a great example of why – the Sage Sound Advice podcast. Noticing an explosion in entrepreneurs starting new businesses, Sage decided to do something quite simple: help. But to do so with no direct or immediate benefit to itself. With subject matter experts to hand that Sage knew could provide those entrepreneurs with impartial, valuable, real-world start-up advice, guidance, and success stories, it went about producing a series of podcasts that would do precisely that.
These podcasts involved no executives or anyone else from Sage itself. They offered no direct pay-off to Sage of any kind. They didn’t even name-check the Sage brand. Yep, that’s right. Sage isn’t mentioned outside the title of the podcast. Moreover, these podcasts were not followed up by any Sage brand awareness or demand gen activity. No productization. No calls to action to generate demos. No gated content. No nurture tactics. No sales team involvement whatsoever.
Play the long game
The outcome? The series averaged 4.9 out of 5 stars on Apple and ranked in the top 1% globally on ListenNotes. It also won a UK Content award, was a double Webby Award honoree and has been nominated for 3 B2B Marketing Awards. From just 50 episodes, that’s pretty damned impressive. Even just to be nominated is prestigious. All this was made possible because Sage was brave enough to focus on producing genuine, quality content. Because it was brave enough not to push the audience to buy immediately. To believe that giving people what they needed when they really needed it would build valuable, lasting memory structures and brand loyalty.
And they were right. (It really is an honest, engaging, entertaining listen by the way. I even subscribed myself.)
Finding a niche, an audience, and even a niche audience in this way can be a long game. And a gutsy one to pull off in today’s fast-paced, demanding market. But done properly, such pure, slow-burn brand plays – that leverage brand etiquette and brand salience – will earn sales down the line. And well-earned they will be too.
True brand integrity
With audiences crying out for more ‘human’ brand relationships and actual conversations, being brave enough to provide them is a smart move. While talking the talk is one thing though, walking the walk is quite another.
How to do it?
Start with a vision. Encourage and applaud those that conceive it. Hone and perfect it. And then start selling it up the chain – get senior leaders and VPs involved and enthused.
Again, I know what you’re thinking. Securing board-level sponsorship for a vision that promises no immediate impact on pipe or numbers? That doesn’t feed the sales team? That doesn’t just side-step short-term thinking, but ignores it completely and walks right by? That’s not gonna be easy.
True. But like I say, courage is required. Time too. And patience. These are qualities – or perhaps luxuries – that few B2B marketers seem to possess in today’s climate. But that’s what it takes to build true brand integrity and vision. Perhaps channelling a character from another film will help. Ray Kinsella (aka Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams maybe. “If you build it, they will come.” And they did. That’s Marketing 101 when you think about it. Give people what they need and, sooner or later, they will come.
On the other hand we could just go with Crazy People again.
“Jaguar. For men who’d like @%£* @&!$s from beautiful women they hardly know.”
Then again, maybe not.
If you want to have a listen to the Sound Advice podcast series, you can tune in here.
 McKinsey & Co., (2021), https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/why-every-business-needs-a-full-funnel-marketing-strategy
 The B2B Effectiveness Code, B2B Institute (2021)