People are no longer so easily fooled by happy marketing and communication spin.

Once upon a time there was a company that was not doing well and was letting people go. Its internal communications department went into overdrive, constantly publishing feel-good stories. Market conditions improved and the company showed signs of recovery. The communicators department felt they could now relax.

Another company was letting a lot of staff go and created a section on its intranet called "Updates for Our Staff." It was mandated that the word "redundancy" should not be used even though that's the word staff were using.

Employees want news. Useful news. News they can use to make a sale, better help a customer, or know the truth of how the organization is doing. They don't want happy talk. I've been analyzing intranets since 1997 and a common trend I've found is employee contempt for corporate happy talk.

Let's say Domino's Pizza was described to you as "cardboard; mass produced, boring, bland." How would you react? Let's say these statements were made in an advertisement by Domino's. What would you think?

How would you react if Domino's then said they were sorry, they had delivered poor pizza, but were now genuinely trying to make better pizza and deliver better service? This truthful advertising campaign launched in late 2009 and in 2010 boosted sales by almost 10 percent.

What color would you associate with an oil company? Black, perhaps? What color would you not associate with an oil company? Green, maybe? So, what would a clever brand expert do? Of course, they'd choose green for the logo. Because good branding is all about convincing you black is green, isn't it?

In a complex world with a sophisticated consumer, new brands are built based on what they are and how easy they are to use. Think of Twitter, Amazon, Google, YouTube, Facebook. They all do something useful. In a social media world, loyalty is something you earn, not something you buy with a slick advertising and public relations campaign.

When I'm talking about the need to make a website really easy to use, there is nearly always someone in the room who will say: "I agree. But we also need to consider branding."

Easy to use IS branding!

How on earth have we gotten to a point where branding has become the exclusive domain of slick, green logos and advertising illusions? There are no greater illusions than the phony hero shots of smiling actors pretending to be customers that dominate the homepage of so many websites. The vast majority of customers we test react negatively to this sort of marketing.

"People are tired of companies talking at them instead of with them," Patrick Doyle, the CEO of Domino's, told TIME magazine. "The old rule of thumb for companies used to be that for every complaint you hear, people are telling 10 other people. Well, those were the days when people were having one-on-one communications. Brands, because of their big marketing budgets, could overwhelm consumers with the volume of their message. Now, if a customer has a bad experience, it's immediately on Facebook or Twitter. Hundreds or thousands of people hear about it. You've got to adapt and understand that's the dynamic out there. It's pretty powerful."