Convincing potential customers and clients that your business is both trustworthy and ethical, delivering what they want, and what you promise, has never been easy.
But it has become much harder in the “post truth” and fake news world, where cynicism has become the default position on any statement.
It is all too easy for politicians to dismiss any news report they dislike or see as critical as “fake” as seems to have been the default position in both the pre-Brexit referendum in the UK and in the recent US Presidential election.
Unfortunately, the repercussions have been far wider than those particular issues not least because there have also been a number of scandals in the business world, such as the behaviour of VW over the true level of CO2 emissions from various car models.
Not surprisingly any public pronouncement by anyone in politics or business is now often viewed with scepticism and cynicism.
There is a second factor that is making life more difficult for SMEs.
The age of Twitter, texting, instant messaging and social media in general have arguably resulted in shorter attention spans so that people, especially but not only the younger element, have neither the time nor the willingness to either read anything in depth or longer than a few lines.
Add to this the impatience for instant returns on any investment by shareholders and investors and it is clear that the challenges facing business are mounting up.
Yet businesses still need to survive and grow regardless of the above and of the uncertain climate that will prevail once the Government triggers the process of leaving the EU later this month and for the two years at least that the negotiations will take.
So what can SMEs do?
The most obvious approach is to keep calm and carry on. Continue with the marketing but perhaps shift the emphasis a little in ways that demonstrate that the staff and the business can be trusted, which is helped by not making exaggerated claims.
The genuine, ethical business, especially the smaller and well-known local SMEs, should counter scepticism by emphasising their history of good service with recommendations from actual customers and clients, even of their suppliers if appropriate.
Try blogging or providing downloadable fact sheets or examples to provide additional insights and information without expectation of reward in ways that reinforce integrity. Consider collaborating, even with competitors, but remember people tend to be measured by the company they keep. Many small initiatives can add up to a powerful message and be surprisingly productive for all involved.
Being open and honest about products and services, and providing a high quality and level of support helps build and maintain a reputation for integrity that takes years to establish and can be damaged quickly if standards slip without promptly addressing the problem.
While it may be fashionable to believe nothing anyone says, actions speak louder than words, but more importantly words and actions go hand in hand and should reinforce each other.