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bldg on fire

Recently I was privy to a set of emails from within a company which are undoubtedly predictors of its inevitable demise.

The email trail went something like this:

Hi Team, to boost our brands online image and reputation we need your help. Your assignment over the weekend is to sign-up to e-commerce sites and leave a positive review for our (brand xx name removed). Be creative.

Mix it up by posting positive feedback on (brand xx) using competition review pages. Go to the (competitor mentioned here) review page on (e-commerce site mentioned here) and say: “I used (competitor’s product) without much effect, a friend of mine turned me on to (brand xx) and it’s amazing. I’ll never go back.”

This was followed with a list of the sites the team members should go to with specific directions on how to set up an untraceable account.  It ended with a demand for every person to send copies of the reviews they posted to the CEO and the General Manager by Monday.  It was very clear that this assignment was not optional.

A few weeks later the CEO sent out another email with a link to a competitor’s testimonial page with the following:

Look at these testimonials, we need the same.  I need to see some from each of you!

There are so many things wrong here.  It blows my mind that an owner and a senior executive in a company would direct this kind of behavior.   They are clearly setting up their company to fail.  Here’s why:

  • It puts the product and the company at risk.  That lesson was learned years ago when companies were raked over the coals for creating false blogs and reviews – Walmart’s flog back in 2006 is a great example.   If the fake product reviews are discovered, the brand and the company will lose all credibility.  They risk having their product pulled from the retailers’ shelves and/or experiencing significant consumer backlash.
  • The company underestimates their consumers.  Posting made up reviews assumes that the customers are too stupid to figure it out.  You cannot build a brand with that kind of attitude.  Respect is paramount to the success of every business.
  • It is a waste of valuable time.  The team is spending time creating false endorsements and not focusing on what the real issue is – why aren’t they getting these reviews from their own consumers?  The marketing team’s efforts should be focused on creating relationships with the users of their product; implementing programs, incentives and meaningful conversations so their real consumers are the ones doing the talking.
  • This is short-term thinking.  If their consumers aren’t saying what they want to hear, marketing and sales need to be doing some serious listening and start making real and necessary changes to the product, the positioning and the marketing plan.
  • They are careless.  The email went out to a large list of people in the company, as well as some that should not have received it.   Hiding you are doing something like this is difficult enough even when you only ask a few people to take part.  When you blanket a large part of the company, people are going to start talking.
  • It’s unethical.  If they are willing to be dishonest here, it’s probable that they have other questionable business practices.   Even if no one discovers that they falsely created those endorsements, it’s clear that taking duplicitous shortcuts is part of their corporate DNA.  They are setting a standard of questionable ethics with their employees.  If the owner insists it is okay to lie, most assuredly the employee will learn to lie to the owner.

There are so many hurdles that need to be overcome to build a highly successful brand and company.  Not the least of which is persuading your customers to carry and/or buy your product and continuously earning their trust to keep their loyalty.  A relationship based on lies is doomed to failure.

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According to dictionary.com, an opinion is “a belief or judgment that falls short of absolute conviction, certainty, or positive knowledge; it is a conclusion that certain facts, ideas, etc., are probably true or likely to prove so.”

However, opinionated has a very different definition: “obstinate or conceited with regard to the merit of one’s own opinion; conceitedly dogmatic… asserting opinions in a doctrinaire or arrogant manner.”

Ultimately, whether or not you are viewed as expressing a valuable opinion or being opinionated comes down to delivery. The same statement, expressed differently, can establish you as knowledgeable or obnoxious. I sat in meeting not too long ago where a woman, a new employee to the company, was asked to offer her insights on a proposal from an outside service. This proposal was in the area of her expertise and it was well within the manager’s right to assume that the woman’s opinion would be very valuable. To her disadvantage, the new employee had not really had any time to review the proposal. However, rather than taking a step back and creating credibility with an objective analysis such as “I think we should look into the company’s methodology a bit further as I am not sure that they can achieve the results they are promising,” she took a hard stance and claimed “the company is totally bogus; they are full of it and could never achieve those results.”

Both statements ultimately carry the same message, but the first one would have provided her with a level of credibility that would have empowered her to establish the value of her opinion. The statement she made, however, left no room for a real evaluation of the proposal; she expected everyone in the room to just accept her statement carte blanche and eliminated any opportunity to demonstrate an educated expertise.

Now admittedly, this is a huge pet peeve of mine so I have an extremely low threshold for people who speak in generalities. But in this situation, I was not the only one who found it ineffective. It was clear the manager did not find her contribution very helpful as he suggested she take a bit more time to look at the proposal and get back to him with her specific concerns.

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion; most employees are hired for the way they think. Friends and family are respected for the advice and insights they bring to our lives. However, in our effort to make decisions quickly or to appear knowledgeable, we often resort to personal judgments expressed as facts; we resort to gross generalities delivered with conviction.

Using an opinionated statement works to shut down a conversation, making it extremely difficult to garner meaningful information. While the opinion expressed may be true, the way it is delivered does nothing to establish any level of factual knowledge. It can result in a perception of tyranny if you have the power over others in the conversation – reducing them to silent pawns, afraid or unmotivated to express a dissenting view. Or, if power is equal or reversed, the conversation can become confrontational or your contribution is discounted.

When offering or asked for your opinion, think twice about the way you put it forth. Respect that an opinion is not a fact or a proven statement, but is a reflection of your personal thoughts and ideas. Be aware that there is a fine line between your opinions establishing you as either informed or irritating.