How Brands Lose Trust: Greenwashing, Overstating and Other Marketing Spins

Updated: Sep 20


Many of us are guilty of overstating a marketing claim, making it more grandiose than it is. Or we've done the opposite—downplayed something to manage public perception. Either can backfire and destroy trust.


Greenwashing, news high jacking, overstating, understating, and spinning all pose risks to our brands. Relationship building with audiences is paramount. Anything less proves counterproductive to maintaining trust and loyalty.


The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer shows consumers to be a fickle bunch with patience levels being on par with Coach Nick Saban, who famously declared, "I have none."


After a two-year-long pandemic and epidemic of misinformation, respondents surveyed in 28 different countries declared an "information bankruptcy." They don't trust societal institutions, government leaders, or the media. Surprisingly, business emerged as the only trusted sector with a 56% trust index.


Improving communication and various other systems dominated as the most important foundational problem worldwide. That presents brands with a platform to amplify information that lets audiences know "this is what we're doing" to prioritize consumers and their needs. Anything less, and we risk losing their trust.


Curb the Spin to Maintain Trust


Have you ever noticed how many people seem to be an environmentalist for the day every April 22nd (Earth Day)? Though their interest in environmental activism may be fickle at times, don’t underestimate your audiences. Customers, employees, and other stakeholders now expect sustainability and they know greenwashing when they see it. Spinning a message about environmentally friendly policies should be backed up with solid, consistent practices. Otherwise, the green sheen can quickly turn beet red.


In a Harris Poll for Google Cloud, executives across the globe identify Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives as their top organizational priority. Yet, soft drink giants to leading fashion retailers continue to market eco-friendly products only to have those claims blown apart.


The Healthcare industry remained at odds with environmentally friendly expectations for many years. However, over the past decade, hospitals have worked to reduce environmental footprints.


We should promote ways we're keeping consumers and the earth safer, whether it's upgrading energy efficiency or using green-certified cleaning products. Be careful not to overstate efforts, and don’t forget to talk about it regularly—not just on Earth Day.


Market with a Cause to Elevate the Brand


Start with marketing rule #1—know your audience. Knowing your audience is more than just focusing on demographics. Empathy and shared values can solidify brand loyalty, elevate perception, and differentiate a brand from the competition.


In the past, companies shied away from public comments on social issues. Today, consumers want to support brands that align with their values. Employees also want to work where they feel included. The 2022 Communications Benchmark Report identifies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as a top priority for organizations.


Before supporting any social initiative, develop a strategic plan. Failing to do so leaves your brand open to complaints about appearing insincere and criticisms of putting profit over authentic purpose. Walmart received backlash when rolling out "Juneteenth Ice Cream" to acknowledge the holiday marking the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Critics called out Walmart for promoting Juneteenth-themed ice cream over the Black-owned ice cream brands already stocked on their shelves. What may have been a genuine attempt at support was overshadowed by the lack of strategic planning.


Corporate social responsibility earns public trust when we use marketing platforms to direct attention to causes we support rather than platitudes for the good we're doing in the community. For healthcare brands, proactive efforts to address health inequities and manage the community's health can earn goodwill and trust.


Be Transparent, Internally and Externally

The past two years have taken their toll on workers across industries physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then comes the Great Resignation to compound problems.


Through all this, what happens internally reflects the perception of the brand externally. Patients want to know the companies they’re spending their money with are treating their employees with compassion and respect. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in how companies compensate their employees, prioritizing brands with fair wages, good benefits & adequate work-life balance.


There was a time when marketing teams argued against posting mission and vision statements and core values front and center on websites or other external-facing channels. Reset post-2020. Sharing these high-level statements gives our audiences a snapshot of what we stand for and consider important.


Such transparency also shows good faith efforts at inviting consumers and employees to take a seat at the table. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 68 percent of consumers and 62 percent of employees believe they "have the power to force corporations to change."


Transparency, authenticity, and empathy earn trust. It's our job not to spin it away.


If you need to evaluate your marketing strategy, we welcome a conversation. Email Lori Moore or call TotalCom Marketing Communications at 205.345.7363.

17 views0 comments