I was recently invited to speak at a conference on content marketing trends and insights. It was the final session of the day, it was 80 degrees (in February), and there were ice cream bars available outside when the session kicked off. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for a high level of attendance.

I was pleasantly surprised when a number of people wandered in as the doors were closing—perhaps they were hot or looking for some shade so their ice cream didn’t melt. After finishing my presentation, I walked over to the evening reception with a couple of friends and met a number of people who had follow-up questions for me. One of the questions has stuck with me, and I think it’s an important topic to share.

As you know, a foundational element of successful marketing content is buyer-centric messaging. A best practice in this arena is authenticity and as much transparency as possible. This is critical. It’s something I believe in and coach all of my clients to practice.

The question posed to me was what to do when your content situation is “not great.”

As a Colorado-based company, I’ll use an example that’s close to home and serves as a great metaphor. Say you operate a ski resort and the snow just isn’t coming. Only a small percentage of your lifts are open and there is grass showing in some areas of the slopes. Obviously this is not a good situation. What do you do?

Own it.

That’s the only viable option. Regardless of your industry or the challenge you’re facing, own the situation. This is a hard thing for a lot of companies to hear—they still believe they can control the conversation around their brand, which is simply no longer true.

If you don’t own your mistakes or challenges, someone else will.

In our 24/7, social-enabled, real-time culture, customers are going to share their experiences, both positive and (especially) negative.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: they’re going to share regardless. So have you been honest with your customers, or have you tried to “protect” your brand? The latter option simply creates a scenario where you’ll disappoint them, and if you’ve gone this route, you’re in trouble. Not only have you set yourself up for failure, you’ve undermined any trust you’ve built with your customers and their network.

If you know there’s an issue—and whether it’s your fault or not—take responsibility for it. You don’t want to surprise your clients with a bad experience; that will only compound the issue. Instead, own it. Use it as an opportunity to be transparent. These situations humanize the company and build trust.

No one and no company is perfect, and believe it or not, everyone knows that. So why continue the charade?

This is also an opportunity to use humor and demonstrate that you get it. In the example above, why not promote “Spring Skiing in February” as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that it’s been a warm winter? You could even run “Summer Special” rates at the hotels or ski resort.

By owning the situation, you diffuse it.

You’re not hiding anything, so there is nothing anyone can expose. You’ve been honest with your clients and kept their trust; in return, they’ll appreciate your honesty and empathize with your situation.

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