What if everyone finds out you’re not perfect?

What if your customers learn about everything that’s wrong with you and your business? Your every past mistake, every public misstep, every business failure?

Will they abandon you?

That’s a scary thought. And it’s a real possibility.

Everywhere we look, we see customers deserting the brands they used to trust and going to competitors, because those brands made a misstep. Or a series of missteps.

Understandably, many business owners want to protect themselves. So they only reveal things that make them look good. It is the best policy? We disagree.

In today’s post, we want to talk about how being open about mistakes, failures, and all manner of negative things about your brand can actually help your image, not hurt it.

We’ll cover 4 strategies for turning anything negative – as long as it’s legal and well-intentioned – into high-octane marketing fuel for your business. And we’ll do it with lots of examples.

Sounds good? Then let’s dig in!

1. Own your mistakes…

For most businesses, it looks like they have two options to deal with mistakes:

  1. Never make them, period. So reasonable. So realistic!
  2. If you do, make sure your customers find out as late as possible.

Both approaches are horrible, for different reasons.

The former is impossible. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s never a question of if they make one, but a question of when. And the latter is exactly what gets most companies in trouble in the first place!

Brands don’t lose customers’ trust because they happen to make mistakes… they lose it because they don’t own up to them. They hide the fact, downplay the consequences, and otherwise mess up the golden opportunity to apologize, make it right, and learn from the experience.

Don’t be like that. Here’s a better way to handle it…

Who is doing it?

We want to illustrate this strategy with a great example we’ve come across recently.

AppSumo is a company bringing deals on tech software to entrepreneurs. In one of their offers, they made a passing but distasteful joke about Michael J. Fox, and his Parkinson’s disease.

After facing understandable indignation from customers and the public, AppSumo did exactly what they needed:

  1. Issued a public apology and took responsibility.
  2. Removed the offending joke.
  3. Proved they were sorry by donating the proceeds from the offer to Parkinson’s disease research.
  4. Took steps to make sure they will not make the same mistake again.

It’s just one instance, but we feel that it expresses this strategy perfectly. In the online world, people are very quick to get outraged. And if you make a public mistake, the word will get around.

Getting out a solid apology is not “only” the right thing to do – it is a strategic move to improve your image and make a favorable impression on potential customers… who would otherwise get a horrible introduction to your brand.

How to use it in marketing

Of all the strategies we’re discussing today, this is the most “special purpose” one. You can use it in two instances:

  1. Direct communication with customers, like emails or other customer-facing content.
  2. Public statements about the mistakes you made, like press releases.

2. …and teach others to avoid them

In the past, did you make mistakes in your life and business? We thought so. Now, do you think there are people out there, right now, who are making the same mistakes you did?

And if so, is there any chance that some of them might become your customers, employees, or business partners in the future?

In that case, you have a duty to share your experiences with them – so they could improve a little bit faster than you did when you were in that position. And in the process, these like-minded people will stand with you as followers, fans, and customers.

Wouldn’t that be great? We know that it sounds just a little vague. So let’s illustrate this strategy with an example of someone who fits the bill perfectly…

Who is doing it?

Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive, embodies this strategy. He is always open about the mistakes he made in the past with his health and running his business.

If the world knew him simply as his impossibly productive, super-fit, permanently high-energy self, he would be much less relatable. But because Dave always teaches people how to avoid the mistakes that used to give him grief in the past, they have no trouble making a powerful connection with him and the Bulletproof brand.

Among other places, he shared his sage advice on the first podcast interview we’ve ever done. So check that out if you’re curious!

How to use it in marketing

This strategy lends itself very well to two things:

  • Creating remarkable content. Your customers are most likely at the start of their journey. They will appreciate someone telling them, “Hey, I know what it feels like. I’ve been there. In fact, let me tell you all about what a dummy I’ve been!” It works like a charm.
  • Crafting persuasive sales copy. Learning about your “origin story” will help your customers believe in the promise of your product or service. If, like Dave Asprey and others, you have a compelling personal journey to share – one that speaks to the effectiveness of what you sell – you should use it in your sales messages.

3. Open up about your failures

Does this one sound a lot like strategy #1?

They are quite different, actually. Strategy #1 shows what to do when you (or your brand) misstep and do something wrong. And strategy #3 is for those “simple” cases when you try to accomplish something… but you don’t get the results you expected.

In other words, it’s for when you fail.

Your customers aren’t hurt, and they don’t need to know what happened… so you might as well keep quiet, right?

Not at all! Telling everyone about your failure is a great way to:

  • Analyze it on a much deeper level – both because you will be thinking about it more, and you’ll get outside input from people.
  • Build trust with your customers and other stakeholders who have a relationship with your brand.
  • Control the message, so nobody gets to define for you what exactly happened.

Who is doing it?

Right now, transparency in business is on the rise thanks to one relatively small company – Buffer. They make everything public, including revenue and salary numbers. This is a practice that has earned them both admiration and fervent criticism.

In 2016, Buffer’s commitment to transparency faced a serious test when they had to lay off 10 people (11% of the company). But they didn’t shy away from telling the world about it anyway.

For a moment, let’s appreciate the amount of guts it took. In the process, though, Buffer achieved something else, too. Something remarkable.

They created an amazing piece of marketing content, with 6,000+ shares and 270+ comments.

They strengthened the trust their employees and customers have in them.

And they even used Strategy #2 successfully, giving some useful lessons about avoiding the mistakes that led to this unfortunate situation!

How to use it in marketing

When done right, stories of failure can become branding and marketing gold.

When you create any type of content, you can use them to connect with your readers, viewers, and listeners more effectively:

  • Giving an interview to someone…
  • Sending an email to your customers…
  • Writing sales copy…
  • Shooting a video…
  • Writing a blog post…

…you name it!

4. Share your flaws

If your brand is personality-driven, you can use this strategy to make a stronger, more authentic connection with your customers.

It’s simply this: don’t tell your customers only the stuff that makes you look good. Share your vices with them. Show them you have a flaw that makes you relatable…

…but also doesn’t make your customers think, “I don’t want to be doing business with this person.” For example:

Bottom line is, your quirks, flaws, and little indulgences won’t make customers trust you any less – they will actually get them to like you more! And they give you a fail-proof, effortless way to inject some easy humor into everything you tell people.

Note: When we say your brand is “personality-driven,” it doesn’t have to mean “everything is about the Founder / CEO.” If you share any personal stories about your team, or anyone closely connected to the company – could be your office cat, who knows! – you can still benefit from this advice.

Who is doing it?

Aside from the three examples we already mentioned, there’s one entrepreneur who puts his flaws at the front and center of everything he does – James Altucher.

If you pick up anything James has ever written, you have an approximately 100% chance to see some self-deprecation. He has built a business around putting himself down, and using his flaws as fodder for useful lessons, gripping stories, and compelling offers.

Now, do we advocate that you do the same? Not at all. But if you want to understand how to communicate with people just as you are, warts and all, James Altucher is probably the best person to learn from.

How to use it in marketing

Sharing your flaws and imperfections adds humor and emotion to the way people see your brand. And when prospects connect with you emotionally, they buy.

You can use it everywhere your personality shines through:

  • Social media posts about you or your team.
  • Emails to subscribers and customers.
  • Website copy, especially your About and Team pages.
  • Personal interviews in print, audio, or video.


Opportunities in disguise

Almost anything negative about your brand can be used for boosting your sales and marketing. Well, outside of truly heinous things, that is. But we know that you run an ethical business, and would never do something bad or illegal intentionally.

For everything else, however, you can take steps to fix the situation, and turn it into an advantage for your business. And we hope these strategies have given you some great ideas about where to start. Enjoy!

P.S. Today, we have mostly discussed how you can turn your less-than-stellar moments into solid marketing messages. If you want to learn about using negativity to sell more of your product or service directly, please check out this post on the topic.