Maybe — just maybe the single biggest issue with messaging that fails to generate the desired response is the degree to which it is closer to fiction than fact.

Heretical to suggest such a thing, I know; few of us set out to deliberately mislead. But hang with me.

What might some messages look or sound like if terms like client-centered had to pass a truth-test before insertion into marketing content?

What if, before we could boldly proclaim client-centeredness, we were forced to at least consider the implication to clients of significant operational initiatives?

Or what if, before a culture could be characterized as warm and collegial with no room for (euphemism alert) jerks, we had to actually call-out the jerks in our midst?

The Audience Knows

Sooner or later (and in most cases, it is sooner), the audience — internal or external — instinctively recognizes the unaligned, never mind the fabricated message.

It may be the by-product of service that doesn’t stand-up in the marketplace. Or the sum of actions indicative of a lack of respect. In any case, when words — however eloquent — fail to align with experience, the message will eventually be dismissed.

The Power of Alignment

What if an all-knowing monitor-of-bull were able to delete messages that fail to align with intention?

My friend Roger Hayse recently spotlighted the six law firms appearing on Fortune’s most recent list of 100 Best Companies To Work For In America. And while it goes without saying that no institution is perfect, the fact is that these firms are almost certainly intent on an ideal. This intention is manifest in priorities. And actions taken.

Whatever we’re marketing — ideas, programs, services or products — it eventually becomes very difficult to hide a disconnect between what we say and what we do. And once recognized, no matter how creative or poetic, this message will never create positive action, generate a desired response or move the needle in the right direction.

Just saying it on the website doesn’t make it so.

And if you’re hoping the articulation of a marketing message will suddenly make up for product, service or strategic deficiencies, expectations are about to be dashed . . . again.