The Power of Truth, Woot-Style

On a recent trip to New York, I was pondering the future of the in-flight magazine and bemoaning its general editorial shoddiness when I stumbled upon an extraordinary interview with Matt Rutledge from Woot about their policy of telling the truth and acknowledging mistakes. (hat tip to US Airways Magazine)

Since the first caveman painted a sign depicting always low prices, brands have believed in the primacy of telling people how great they are, even if it doesn’t square with reality. As my friend Roger Hurni from Off Madison Ave likes to say about Applebee’s (and others):

“If you have to tell customers you’re the neighborhood bar and grill, you’re definitely NOT the neighborhood bar and grill.”

Truth: What a Concept

Woot takes an entirely antithetical approach, and it’s working. Revenue this year is estimated to be $117 million, and staff has doubled recently to 110. The Woot model is based on telling the truth to the customer even if the truth isn’t positive, and using the resulting shock to build extreme loyalty. The Woot reviews of each product they sell are inspirationally objective. If the product has flaws, Woot makes sure you know about it before buying.

Here’s what Rutledge says about brutal honesty being a scarce commodity for U.S. consumers:

“Every commercial pitches a great product. Every magazine has a great product. Every small business is around because of their great product. Then it’s up to the consumer to find the truth.”

Bingo. A major reason honesty works as a marketing tactic (and therefore a main reason transparent customer service via social media works) is because it’s so entirely unexpected by a consumer audience that has been bullshitted to death. 

This is a nation of forgivers. If you apologize well, we’ll forget and forgive. Ask Mike Tyson. Ask Exxon. Ask Tylenol. Ask Firestone. Why more companies refuse to use truth as a marketing tactic and customer service as its delivery mechanism is maddening. 

Says Rutledge:

“By acknowledging our mistakes, we overcome negative feelings. That becomes the consumer experience that people brag about.” 

I’ll Woot! to that.

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