brand story & messaging

3 brand credibility killers—and how to avoid them

Christine O'Connor | July 6, 2022

Photo by Austin Distel

Brand credibility is key to any business’s success, but the bar is especially high if your enterprise is asking people to change the way they think, adjust their behavior or invest in new technology. Status quo bias and understandable skepticism of marketing claims mean your messaging is under a microscope: any perceived inconsistency or misdirection can become a fatal flaw.

Communications that build brand credibility can make potential customers more open to new processes and products, help an enterprise stand out from the crowd and stand up to third-party scrutiny, and answer reporters’ questions up front, providing a basis for accurate, positive media coverage. Conversely, communications that lack credibility fail to connect because they’re not persuasive. They slow user adoption because they lower potential customers’ level of comfort and understanding. And they can harm your reputation when reality doesn’t match up to your claims.

The following three brand credibility killers are common. Banish them and people will feel more comfortable investing in, buying from and covering your enterprise.

1. Lack of clarity: the leading cause of attention loss

Lack of clarity is a messaging problem that kills brand credibility for three big reasons. First, if you don’t clearly show people how they will benefit and what results they’ll see, you give them no reason to engage with you. When you hit people with technical details before you’ve sold them on benefits, they won’t be able to see the bigger picture. And if you can’t explain what you do clearly and concisely, it may send the message that you can’t execute on your promise.

Jargon-filled press releases, websites and fact sheets that fail to clarify complex challenges and processes, and missing proof points can leave customers and reporters scratching their heads. These problems tend to crop up when expert leaders know so much about their field that they lose sight of their own expertise compared to their audience’s familiarity. This trap, known as the Curse of Knowledge, commonly ensnares cleantech companies whose messaging becomes so jargon- and detail-heavy that the audience misses the point.

The fix is simple: Explain to each audience in plain terms what makes your solution compelling—from their point of view. Case studies can help because they allow people to see the solution in action and are more clarifying than a generic description.

2. Unsupported and vague claims: a sure way to tarnish media relationships

Unprovable statements, absence of detail and backup data, meaningless comparisons and claims that your solution is the one true path to success make brand communications sound manipulative and misleading.

Startups are particularly prone to this brand credibility killer. They sometimes hold back basic information because of competitive concerns, fear of not looking perfect or concern about how certain details will be perceived. But unnecessary withholding can harm truly innovative startups that get reporters’ attention with exciting yet vague claims and then are unwilling to answer basic questions about price, major customers or business model. This can sour media relationships and make a company with the best intentions and ethics look shady.

The solution is to test your claims rigorously and answer obvious questions with the necessary framing. Can you back up claims with evidence of effectiveness and relevant data? If you were asked for details, would you feel comfortable providing them? If the answers are “no,” acknowledge that you’re probably not ready for PR. Bottom line: Show your work every time.

3. Failure to speak to your audience: a fast track to alienation

If your messaging and content don’t address your key audiences’ core concerns, you will struggle to capture their attention—and may even annoy them.

This is a distinct challenge when writing media pitches and contributed articles. The “spray and pray” approach—blasting out pitches to every journalist you’d like to reach, regardless of whether that news or story idea fits with their interests—is not effective PR. Thought leadership similarly needs to be carefully targeted—to both a publication’s interests and style and the ultimate audience. Granted, rigorous attention to the needs of each audience takes more time and effort than generic material, but it’s essential to success.

These three traps—lack of clarity, unsupported or vague claims and failure to speak to the audience—are easy to fall into. The trick to avoiding them—and to building brand credibility—is investing in simple, clear, memorable messaging and carefully targeted, audience-centric communications strategies.

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