With more than 1.2 million people, Allegheny County doesn't really qualify as small in the statistical sense, but this is a tight-knit community.
I've owned and operated a profitable business here for 17 years, and one of the most valuable lessons I've learned is that almost everyone knows everyone else in their industry, in their immediate neighborhood, and so on. When you do something worthwhile, word gets around. And when you do something nasty, word gets around faster. It's hard to stay in business in Pittsburgh if you don't adhere to moral and ethical codes.
Nowhere does this hold truer than in marketing. No snake oil ad from yesteryear would ever be believed in 2002. Audiences today are cynical and slow to trust. And building trust, not sales, is the ultimate goal of marketing.
Trust is the currency of a brand, no matter what business you're in. Your marketing promises that the expectation you raise in buyers will be fulfilled when they make the purchase. You ask your customer to trust you.
Take consumer products: When you buy a certain bathroom tissue, you "trust" that it will be soft. Why? Because the brand marketing told you so.
It wouldn't take too many purchases of scratchy toilet paper for you to distrust the brand and not purchase it again. And you'd probably tell other people to distrust the brand, too.
What's the lesson for consumer brands? Quality control. Consumer brand manufacturers have to make sure their product is always up to standard.
And what about those cases where the brand stands for people, as in service businesses? People make mistakes, so sometimes expectations aren't met right away.
In all relationships, including business ones, taking responsibility and correcting mistakes stands in for promises kept. Clients will forgive you if you're forthright and usually reliable.
Consistently break your promises, though, and you won't stay in business long. Not in this town, anyway.
Andrea Fitting is CEO of Fitting Group, a Pittsburgh-based agency that specializes in helping companies transition to deregulated markets.