Lipstick on a pig

What I’ve learned in the past two decades as a marketing and communications professional returns fundamentally to a basic principle – you must have good content.  Anything short of solid content is just “lipstick on a pig” in my view. Defining the expression further amplifies the rationale for this post – thanks to the internet – to put “lipstick on a pig” is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product.

In my experience, the majority of people we interact with (consumers, coworkers, potential clients) are reasonable people, with reasonable expectations. However, when it comes to reputation, a brand’s value has to demonstrate commitment beyond the lipstick and provide substance to consumers. I would suggest putting more steak on the plate and less sizzle, but that would mix meat metaphors horribly.

Consumer  relationships have always been important – haven’t they? It’s nearly impossible to not have heard of PT Barnum’s famous adage,  “there’s a sucker born every minute“. Barnum was seen as a marketing genius (and a shyster) who could fill his circus tents to the amazement and delight spectators. Whether people were impressed or just had a good time is immaterial. His show/product traveled from town to town keeping well ahead of the show’s actual brand proposition and media.

So what does a 19th century circus and digital brand management have in common? In the age of digital communications, consumerism has turned that entrepreneurial style on its head – the desire is for longer, meaningful relationships.  Digital consumers are more likely to have researched and done their due diligence long before engaging your product or service. Relationships matter and the negativity online can certainly dissuade prospects.    When thinking about his (and by extension the product’s) reputation however, Barnum’s quote certainly made him famous, but the reality is that there is little to no evidence that suggest he even said it. Clearly brand management in the 1880’s was easier than it is today.

However, it remains central to the message here. Content and delivering solid product must remain the core of your business.  Speed to market means nothing if you have a substandard product or service that doesn’t meet expectations of consumers.  Focus on the value proposition and avoid just putting something out there for the sake of having something out there.  I return once again to the brilliant Simon Sinek who I referenced earlier in ‘Why‘. If you build a value proposition that delivers an answer to the question why’ rather than what or how – your product won’t require the PT Barnums of the world to flog your product.

I’m sure it hasn’t changed much, but a 2007 piece from research leaders, Ipsos Reid details the value that consumers find in products. To quote the report “quality of product” (71%) and “customer service” (69%) are rated as the most important attributes…when assessing the reputation and trustworthiness of a company or industry. Other measures such as “innovation” (17%) or “advertising” (7%) are seen as far less important .”

My advice, leave the spin at home unless you’re selling dishwashers.  First create a good product, then market it – not the other way around.


This entry was posted in Corporate Communications, Leadership, Marketing, Public Relations, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Lipstick on a pig

  1. Pingback: High Pressure Jobs | Steve Virtue

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