Can negativity be a positive in marketing?

In most areas of marketing content and communication it would be unthinkable to include even constructive criticism, never mind negativity in your marketing materials. But when it comes to earned media results or press coverage, just how good is a 100% positive and glowing review? Moreover, can a trace of negativity actually be a good thing? When it comes to trusting and believing in a brand, a squeaky clean message may be at odds with our natural cynicism as human beings.

Obviously content produced through the marketing disciplines of PR and earned media – where you’re influencing third parties to help tell your story – work differently to those in owned and paid media, where the purse-string holder has more control over what’s said. In fact in my 20 years in B2B and tech PR I’ve seen numerous companies throw their PR effort on the scrapheap because they simply feel they can’t control it.

But less controllable marketing is actually a vital governor in ensuring that your brand and its message to the market is not too good – and companies that ditch it are missing a trick. And anyone who believes that the power of a fully controllable owned and paid media strategy without the ‘edge’ brought activities like PR and third party comment is missing the point.

I’m not advocating that a full blown PR crisis is a good thing of course – merely that companies with a little bit of ‘sour’ to temper the ‘sweet’ are more likely to be remembered and be seen as real and their people human. From a journalist or blogger’s perspective too they are also likely to be more interesting, credible and worth talking to.

A case in point is this article in Diginomica reporting on Trunki’s roll-out (love the pun) of NetSuite. The article does a good job of highlighting how and why the customer has chosen this software provider, but it also highlights good journalism, pointing to things the customer wants but is not yet getting from the company.

Negative or positive? The B2B PR agency to client answer would be that it’s “balanced” and while this may sound like a PR cop-out it’s not. Balance is good – it means that higher calibre journalists are interested in you, if nothing else. You could argue either way that the presentation of issues like these may deter other buyers, or you could say it gives them crucial insight into what they should be campaigning for or negotiating on.

I wouldn’t say that all PR is good PR, but good PR alone isn’t a true representation of reality and life.

Rob is MD of Skout PR and has worked in UK PR agencies for two decades.

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