The Upside of Acknowledging the Downside

The whole idea behind inbound marketing is that people are out there looking for information to help them make decisions about what to buy and where to buy it. So marketers provide them with the answers they seek as the first step in an ongoing relationship that will, with any luck, involve them making a purchase or two.

But the relationship won’t even make it to the introduction stage if the answers provided aren’t useful. And the best way to guarantee your answers are useless is to make them too one-sided. There’s no getting around it—for your inbound strategy to work, you have to be trustworthy. And there’s no better way to gain trust than to disclose information that is not in your immediate interest to reveal.

The Truth Doesn’t Hurt

This may seem like a simple enough principle, but it’s pretty common for business owners to get nervous whenever a marketer suggests being upfront about their product’s weaknesses. Most inbound marketers can cite examples of companies who have had success doing things like posting reviews of their competitors—some of which are actually positive. One of the reasons this works is that searches for your competitors end up displaying your review. But more important is the fact that you’re establishing trust.

The psychologist and influence guru Robert Cialdini gives several good examples of this principle at work in his book Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. One of the earliest ads for the Volkswagen Beetle read, “Ugly is only skin deep.” Progressive Auto Insurance lists the rates for their competitors on their website—even when they’re cheaper. And who can forget the most interesting man in the world’s verdict? “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis.” (I can imagine an executive at the meeting when this ad was pitched complaining, “But why does he have to say he doesn’t always drink Dos Equis?”)

Cialdini also reports on experiments done in courtroom settings, and these may have more direct bearing on our content strategies. The psychologist Kip Williams, for instance, found that it was advantageous for lawyers to be the ones who presented the weak parts of their own cases. For one thing, if you don’t acknowledge the weakness, the other lawyer—or in our cases the competition—will point them out anyway. So it’s better to call attention to them yourself because then you look both more knowledgeable and more honest. This will also give you the opportunity to frame the drawbacks in a way that makes them seem less significant.

Who Drives the Decision?

Inbound marketers in particular need to realize that people these days are constantly bombarded with pitches and pleas for their attention. Anything that sounds sales-y or one-sided is bound to raise suspicions. Your audience is going to quickly realize your agenda is driving the content, and at that point they simply have no incentive to continue reading. Plus, by highlighting your product’s weaknesses you’re subtly implying that its strengths must far outweigh them.

It’s also important to keep in mind that one of the most appealing things about doing online research before shopping is that it puts the consumer in the driver’s seat. But, if all they see when they land on a website is a list of reasons why they should buy the product, they no longer feel like they’re the one in control. They’re no longer the savvy consumer researching buying options. Instead, they’re the hapless shopper being hounded by a pushy salesperson. Fortunately, since they’re online, they don’t have to be hounded for long.

Ultimately, the upside of acknowledging the downside is deepened trust between you and your audience. By exposing your weaknesses, you actually strengthen the consumer’s confidence in your word. Keep an unbiased approach to your content and you’ll hold on to your audience (and their attention) for life.

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