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Say yes to transparent marketing – why being honest translates to customer loyalty

The axiom that you must always read the small print is ingrained in consumers from a young age. We're taught never to accept things at face value, to look out for the terms and conditions, and distrust any offer that seems too good to be true.

While this approach will have been justified by experience for many people, it poses an oft-overlooked opportunity for marketers with nothing to hide. When the customer is accustomed to digging deep for the drawback in an offer, placing all your cards on the table stands out as an unexpected, and often pleasant, surprise.

As Forbes contributor Blake Morgan puts it, "For many years as marketers we’ve made things shinier, bigger and brighter than they actually are. And this is terrible for the customer experience. The reason is you are starting a relationship with your customer by letting them down."

Rather than focusing on exaggerating a product's benefits and selling points, transparent marketing lets the consumer know exactly what they're getting. This unvarnished honesty is such a rarity in the marketing world that it can often help products to go viral. Take the "not very nice" Hoxton flat advertised last year by UK letting agency Harvey Residential. Since the flat was, in fact, not very nice, the agency told The Independent that "there was no point in giving people the wrong message" – an approach that really shouldn't be revolutionary.

Honesty tends to go hand-in-hand with humor, positioning a brand as friendly, likeable and unafraid to laugh at itself. In its SlideShare presentation on 'insanely honest' marketing, Velocity cites Avis as one of the oldest and worthiest examples of this principle. Since 1963, Avis has proudly claimed its rank of number two car rental agency, even adopting the slogan 'We try harder'. Original ad campaigns announced 'The line at our counter is shorter' and 'Avis can't afford not to be nice'. In four years, the company's market share went from 11% to 34%.

When customers know exactly what they're getting from a brand, it builds trust and encourages loyalty. Econsultancy blogger Ritchie Mehta suggests that, to build real loyalty, brands need to move away from gimmicky tactics, and instead focus on providing a reliable and trustworthy offering: "The new mantra in loyalty is to offer customers ‘always-on deals’ by giving them the best value each and every time they interact with you."

Time to adopt a new axiom: honesty really is the best policy. Find out how censhare is helping brands to nurture customer loyalty and improve the customer experience with always-on, targeted communications, by exploring our Multichannel Campaign Management solution.