Transparent Marketing – Why Lying is Going Out of Fashion

transparent marketing

Human beings have an incredible gift that almost no other animal has: We lie.

Just as soon as we learn to talk, we also learn that we can tell lies so that we’re slightly better off than we would have been had we told the truth.

I have literally seen 2 year old babies lie so blatantly and think they’re going to get away with it. Poor things. For now they’re just experimenting with this exciting new super power, but one day they’ll become experts with it.

The older we get, the better we get at lying. Seriously, have you ever heard your grandma lie? The answer is no! Because she’s so darn good at it!Grandma never lies

We get better at making it more convincing, and we also learn what types of lies we can benefit from the most.

But we’re now arriving at a moment in time where it is in your best interest to try and reverse these bad habits.

The Truth is Dangerous, But so are Lies

Growing up, I wasn’t always particularly truthful with my parents. Nothing too outrageous, but just like any kid, I used to tell lies every now and then to avoid getting into trouble.

The problem was, as my lies got bigger, I started getting caught more and this just made matters worse. The trouble I would have been in for telling the truth would have been much better than the trouble I ended up getting in because of the lies.

By my late teens, things really weren’t going too well for me. There’s no need to go into detail – this isn’t another episode of Jerry Springer.

I slowly began to realise that my lies weren’t going to get me anywhere and so I pretty much just started telling the truth, all the time. Even when there was no need to, I thought it was interesting to share my mistakes with the people around me, to discuss them and learn from them.

It even became a bit of a running joke in my family that I needed to lie to my dad more. They thought I was just getting myself into trouble for no reason.

You see the thing is, I figured that everyone would always find out the truth eventually. So it just seemed to make more sense to share the truth.

To this day, I still prefer the truth, even when it hurts.

Human beings aren’t as tight assed as we think they are. We don’t expect people to be perfect. And the truth is it’s kind of weird when they are.

My mum once said something to me when I was just a kid and it’s stuck with me every since. I even got it tattooed – no joke.

Nobody’s perfect, and who wants to be a nobody.

Of course, this is a lovely story but people still need to make money. So, enough of the bullshit, right?

What happens next is this… Just as we all began doing when we were kids, we think that lies will help us make more money, as long as we don’t get caught.

“Read the Small Print”

For years we have been lied to by people in marketing. “Check the small print” has become a common part of the process when we purchase goods or services.

Why do we check the small print? Because we have come to understand that this is where companies reveal the truth. If it wasn’t for the law, most people wouldn’t include the small print at all but they know they’ll get sued if they don’t.

For most of us, it is now embedded in our subconscious that there’s usually a catch with most products and services so we’re surprisingly good at knowing where to find it.

I say most of us, because unfortunately there are still thousands of people that get ripped off by misleading marketing every day.

That means that marketers have two options:

1. Get better at hiding the truth.
2. Stop lying and use the truth to their advantage.

You may be reading through this and thinking to yourself that the truth will just be far too boring so surely it’s better to lie?

Great! You’ve just discovered something else… Your product is shit.

If the truth is too boring then it’s a sign that your product isn’t providing any benefit to the world so go back to the drawing board and build something you’re proud of.

The Truth Prevails in a Saturated Market

As consumers, in the past we had to learn to put up with the lies of our marketing comrades because the people they worked for had something we wanted. We either either ignored the sleazy marketing and bought the product/service anyway or we simply couldn’t have it.

Well now things are changing and in my opinion this is something to be super excited about.

You see, the world is becoming saturated with people trying to sell us things we want and need. Every day, week, month or year that goes by, consumers have more options to chose from.

Just walk into any technology store and walk over to the television section to see what I mean. The amount of choice is ridiculous! And really, all we actually give a damn about is the size. Everything else is pretty much insignificant.

Too much choice

Now there is so much competition out there that consumers don’t have to just accept what’s available. They have the power to choose.

This really excites me because it means that brands have to really push to create a better product and provide a better service if they want to have a chance of surviving.

As a consumer it means that all the crappy brands will slowly disappear and we will be left with a world of awesome brands who create amazing products and genuinely care about their customers.

As a marketer it means it’s never been more important to focus brand integrity.

More Information, More Options, More Power

I read somehwere the other day that every two days we produce the same amount of information as we did from the dawn of time until 2003. That’s a lot.

I just looked it up and it turns out to be a quote from Google’s Eric Schmidt.


Eric Schmidt

Consumers are empowered by choice and information. They’ve got the upper hand!


The more competition there is in any given market, the more companies are pushed to improve their offering.

Traditionally this has been done in 2 ways:

1. Lower the price

This will always give short term wins but will usually cause more damage than it will good in the long run.

Prices will go down naturally as the materials and technology needed to produce a product go down. This means that you can either keep the same price but improve the product, or lower the price as the gross expenses also go down. Either way, the margins stay the same and this is the correct way to do it.

Lowering the price by eating into your margins will almost always have a negative effect. It causes competition to do the same, causing you to have to lower your prices even further, ending up in a downward spiral that will eventually put you out of business.

Price War

2. Improve the offering

  • Better customer service
  • Better products
  • Better results
  • More accessories
  • More apps.

All of these things give more value.

But the Key to a Customer’s Heart…

Here’s the good news. There’s something you can do even when you can’t compete on price and offering. IN FACT, you should really be doing it no matter what the case.

It’s so easy to do, you’d be foolish not to. All you have to do is be yourself. Quit pretending to be some big impressive company with a product that’s better than it really is.

And if that’s too embarrasing for you, build a better product.

Make Your Brand Transparent

It really is as easy as telling the truth. But don’t just stop there. You’ll gain even more credibility by going out of your way to tell the truth about things you really didn’t have to.

Sounds weird right? But that’s how effective this thing is.

People love the truth so much that you can actually benefit from sharing private things about your company that most marketers would cringe at the thought of.

Here are a few examples of what I consider to be successful ways in which transparency has helped a brand grow. I’ve used a complete variety of examples to show you just how applicable it really is…

Disclosure: I have absolutely no incentive for talking about any of the following people/brands.


The guys over at Buffer are perhaps the most well-known for their transparency. Some would probably even go so far as to say that they sparked a trend by revealing their company accounting to the public.

It worked amazingly for them and got them lots of media attention.

Check out this dashboard they created so that everyone could follow their company’s growth:


Minaal is a travel accessories brand that I’ve followed since their first launch on Kickstarter a few years back. I love using their brand as an example for a variety of things because I think they’re absolutely nailing it.

And transparency is one of the things that they’re great at. Just look at the automatic chat message when there’s no one there to answer:

“We’re eat, sleeping, or in transit right now; but it’d be cool if you left us a message.”

How simple is that!?

Just pure, honest transparency. Browse around their website and sign up to their newsletter for loads of other great examples.

Tim Ferris

If you follow Tim Ferriss you’ll know that after writing his book, The Four-Hour Chef, he began his own podcast. It was clearly a huge success, but a few months back he decided to share all the back end information on it.

He covered absolutely everything, from how many downloads he gets, to how much money it makes him.

Read the full post here.

Dušan Rožić

For a recent project I posted a logo design contest on 99designs. I ended up discovering an awesome designer, called Dušan Rožić. He’s a really intelligent guy who does amazing designs, but something that really caught my attention was the biography on his profile:

I am architect and designer. I have bad habits, but a good heart. I don’t have a job, but I have passion. I am not professional, but I act like one.

Neil Patel

Neil Patel is probably one of the most successful digital marketers around at the moment and even he is devoting himself to transparency.

For the past couple of years he has been trying to build his own personal blog on the basis of sharing his journey of getting to 100,000 monthly visitors.


What do all of these have in common? They’re all brutally honest.

I tried this out for myself on an ecommerce project I did back at the begining of 2016. We were building an automated email sequence and I wanted the very first email to be a massive insight into the truth behind the company to try and win over the customer’s heart.

At the top of the email we even put a picture looking in through the front door of our office.

Here’s a small extract from the email (it was pretty long):

… Why am I telling you all of this?
Well, because I want you to know exactly who we are. We don’t wear suits to work. Hell, sometimes we go to work in our pyjamas! Why? Because we can.

We don’t believe that any of that is important. What is important is that we’re 100% comitted to giving you the best service possible and we believe we can do that in our pyjamas.

This email was incredibly successful with a 50% open rate and we often received replies from our clients telling us how much they loved it and showing their support for the brand.


What it all Boils Down to

With customer aquistion costs going up, customer retention has never been more important. Building a transparent brand will give you loyal customers that will not only stick with you through the highs and the lows, but they will also help spread the word. This beats PPC any day.


One Final Piece of Advice and a Major Caveat

There’s one good time when it’s safe to lie, and if you can learn to do it properly, it will be one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal.

Here it is:

Make a lie so obvious, it’s funny.

This sounds easy to do but it’s actually a very difficult skill to master.

  • If you don’t make it clear enough that you’re joking then people will just think you’re an asshole like the thousands of other liars out there.
  • If you take it too far and go a little over the top then people will just think you’re down right weird.

The key to doing this successfully is to get inside the mind of your ideal customer.

Play on your weaknesses and don’t exagerate your strengths.


Make the World a Better Place

I’m not just suggesting this to you as a marketer. Yes, I do strongly believe that you can build a better brand and make more money by being more transparent. But it’s more than that.

I beg you to focus on creating a transparent brand because I strongly believe that we can all make the world a better place if we do.

Consumers aren’t stupid. It doesn’t matter if you’re in marketing or not, you ARE a consumer. You deserve better, and so do your customers.

I’ll let Seth Godin finish off this blog post with the final words from his new foreword for All Marketers are Liars:

So, go tell a story. If it doesn’t resonate, tell a different one. When you find a story that works, live that story, make it true, authentic and subject to scrutiny. All marketers are storytellers, only the losers are liars.


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