How happy shiny people can damage your business

By Neil Patrick

Following on from my post here about the connection between fake LinkedIn profiles and online fraud, I was reminded recently of something I’ve been doing almost unconsciously for years. And I suspect we all do it.

How do we make judgements about people and businesses we encounter online? It’s fairly normal to look at their endorsements and recommendations.

Recently I was talking to a client about their website. Like many websites, this one contained real recommendations from real clients. But these clients were shy. They didn’t want their pictures posted despite their glowing praise for my client.

So stock photos were used rather than their real portraits. It was an innocent enough effort to make the page look a bit more polished and attractive.

But this innocent mistake was hurting their credibility.

Because just about anyone can tell what is a stock photo and what is a genuine portrait.

When we see pictures of shiny happy people in beautiful surroundings, unless you are a big brand with big marketing budgets, it sends a subliminal message to all that see it.

That message is not ‘This looks good.’

The message is ‘This looks fake.’

Shiny happy people yesterday. They are pretending. You know it and I know it.

Yes I know good marketing creates aspiration. I know that good business is about enabling dreams and ambitions. And I know that if we want to be taken seriously, we should present our businesses well.

But we live in an age where almost everyone alive has spent their whole lives bombarded by thousands of advertising images almost every day. Consequently, we have developed finely tuned antennae for perceiving what is real and what is fake in marketing and advertising.

It is this evolution of subconscious perceptive skills which demands that we strive more for truth than gloss.

Today, there’s a greater need than ever for us to be authentic. To tell it like it is. Warts and all.

Lying and massaging the truth is right out. So why do so many small businesses attempt to present themselves as big and corporate? Try to convey an impression they are large enterprises when they are not? Owners call themselves CEOs, when the truth is they have few or even no employees?

This really is an own goal because small businesses have a real advantage that big corporates do not. They can provide a highly personal and unique experience to their customers. They can easily go the extra mile. They can make their customers love them much more easily than a big corporation can.

But this demands that we don’t try to gloss things up too much. For a small business authenticity trumps marketing pizzazz every time.

Which is why happy shiny people in stock photos can do untold damage to small business websites.

And this reminds me about the best advertising advice I ever heard; ‘Good advertising is the truth well told’.