I was chatting to a friend of mine last week – a recruitment consultant. We ended up talking about brands and marketing because we’re totally fun and interesting people.

He went into a business recently that was having trouble recruiting and retaining the best talent. The challenge is nothing new for businesses, but they were having a particular problem with people sticking around for 3-6 months then going somewhere else.

Hiring new people is not cheap. Having a high churn rate is a concern.

They aren’t a crap company by any means – at least on paper. They have over 300 employees with swanky offices across the UK and France. And their marketing materials are excellent, with glossy brochures and high-quality videos showing the staff high-fiving, playing table tennis and drinking beers on a Friday afternoon.

One look at Glassdoor, however, revealed a different story. The reviews were terrible. You had to scroll a long way to find someone with something nice to say. And even then it was more about the pay than the people or the culture.

The utopia in their marketing materials was a pure fabrication. There were very few high-fives, very few smiles and beers on a Friday were more out of desperation than joy. The reason people were leaving was simply that the culture they were promised didn’t exist and the reality was bad. Really bad.

The message is obvious, but just in case it’s not: you cannot market your way out of a poor customer experience. The company in question rightly thought that great marketing materials would attract the right people. And they did. But they didn’t consider what their business was actually like to work for.

My friend literally asked them: ‘Why do people work for you?’. And they couldn’t answer the question. They knew that a fantastic company culture was important, so they invented one and threw it out there. Make no mistake, you can’t talk the talk if your walk is a slovenly amble down disappointment avenue.

Your marketing messages can, of course, be inspiring or aspirational, but they have to chime with the customer’s experience of the business. Anyone can say they’re quick, reliable or high quality. But you’d better be damn sure that every customer touchpoint (and every area of the business) lives and breathes that ethos.

Marketing, then, is not an exercise in turd polishing. It’s an exercise in challenging businesses from the inside out. A content team should have visibility into the whole business, understanding the finances, the business plan, the marketing plan, the mission, vision and values, the target customers, potential new markets and whatever else they need.

If they’re going to put out a message, they need to be sure it’s backed up by action. Otherwise, it’s superficial, vacuous noise. And, like Glassdoor, word of mouth will see the truth out eventually.

Or, customers will find out for themselves and quickly move on.