They’re boxy but they’re good!

An associate sent me an article from Fast Company the other week called “Why it’s important to integrate honesty into your brand”.

It wasn’t the article content that made me stop and think (although there’s plenty in there I could comment on), it was the idea that you can “integrate” honesty. Like it is some ingredient to be added to the mix to help make the “brand” successful.

Honesty is a word that gets bandied about pretty freely these days: from the often used personal disclaimer “if I am being honest” (usually a giveaway they aren’t); to its liberal and mostly erroneous use in various corporate values statements.

And with the article I don’t need to go much further than the title. Honesty is not something you “integrate”. When talking about values you hold, there are no degrees of honest. It is either something you are or you aren’t. It’s pretty much binary. A bit like being pregnant – there is no “kind of” in the equation.

I would love it if organisations were honest. If they said what they could do. If they didn’t inflate the supposed benefits. If they didn’t make promises they couldn’t keep. The whole idea reminds of the famous spoof Volvo ad campaign from the movie Crazy People with the headline “They’re boxy but they’re good”.

But I would rather organisations be realistic.

Because when it comes right down to it, I don’t believe it’s dishonesty that gets organisations in trouble – it’s delusion that hurting them and their brands.

Sure there are some bad guys out there who just lie and know they are lying and keep on doing it. But they are the outliers, the few bad apples.

The bigger problem is that organisations don’t look at themselves in the mirror and own up to what they see and act accordingly.

A lot of time and energy is spent talking about the aspiration, about who an organisation wants to be, where it wants to go; the reality of who it is today and what it does today gets lost in the process. The projected future becomes the internal focus and that makes it pretty difficult to be realistic about the “now”. And the now is what your customers and other stakeholders are experiencing.

So, whether you call it honesty, authenticity, genuine or my preferred reality, I can tell you that if you are only looking for it from the organisation’s marketing department or agency, as suggested by the article, you’re not going to find it.

It starts in what you do, not just in what you say.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.

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