A scalpel can be used to heal or to kill. It can perform lifesaving surgery or slash the throat of an enemy. The scalpel is just an instrument. Whether it is used as a tool to serve or as a weapon to harm is a decision made by the person who holds it.
In the same way, branding and marketing are extremely powerful instruments.
Branding and marketing can be tools that bring people together around a common cause. The Red Cross uses marketing to collect donations that bring relief to millions of people suffering the aftereffects of natural disasters. Doctors Without Borders has spent more than 40 years developing a brand that serves the medical needs of millions in war-torn regions.
Branding and marketing can also be used as weapons to foment hatred and encourage discrimination. Dictatorships and military regimes have deployed massive propaganda machines that have led to war and massive loss of life.
As entrepreneurs, we these tools to reach new audiences and persuade people to act. The tools we use to communicate have changed, and technology allows us to reach more people with less effort than ever before. But with these advances comes the need for greater individual responsibility in how they are used.
Many large companies have used these instruments to coerce customers into doing things that are not in their best interests. They don’t tell the whole truth, or they tell it in a way that leads the audience to false conclusions. Sometimes they just plain lie. As a result, branding and marketing have acquired a negative taint, and many people assume that an advertisement is inherently dishonest, regardless of what it says. This is unfortunate, since branding and marketing can also be used as tools that inform the public about products and services that greatly enhance their lives.
Some small business owners decide to use these instruments to benefit themselves, regardless of the harm it does. They don’t think twice about telling half-truths or lying outright. But this practice is inauthentic and, over time, lies will always be uncovered. A lie told to achieve a short-term result will do far more harm over the long term, and can eventually destroy a business.
As you build your company, you must decide how you will use these powerful instruments. Will your brand be truthful? Will your products work as advertised? Will you live up to the guarantees you post on your website? Will your salespeople make promises they can’t deliver? This is a question that every business owner must tackle. Communications are incredibly powerful instruments, but they are only instruments: your conscience will determine how you use them.
Most business owners are wonderful people who have decided to build something that they can be proud of, but those that aren’t should know one thing: you won’t fool us for long.
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