It may come as little surprise that Oxford Dictionaries’ named their 2016 Word of the Year ‘post-truth’. This adjective surmising the increasing influence of ‘appeals to emotion and personal belief’ in swaying opinion rather than objective facts. It’s the creed that you don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The word has been around since the early ’90s but saw a massive spike in usage when it became the go-to term to describe two of the major events of 2016, Brexit and Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the US presidency. According to one fact-checking service, up to 78% per cent of Trump’s claims were anything from “pants on fire” lies to “mostly false”. In this context we get the term post-truth politics.
This post-truth world might seem heaven-sent for brands, freeing communications agencies to craft narratives that play to perception and emotional engagement. One UK agency went as far as to suggest that, in building campaigns for clients, “telling the odd lie along the way doesn’t really hurt, especially if it fits the mindset and beliefs of your customers.”
This might seem appealing but in fact brands need to be more authentic than ever, and here’s why.
Firstly, commercial brands are actually held to higher legal standards than our politicians are. But that’s not the main reason.
Social media, content marketing, experiential activations, digital marketing, earned media, native advertising, influencers and ambassadors, data and insights – there are more avenues and platforms than ever to speak to audiences and consumers. Communications is an ever-shifting landscape, where new tools and techniques proliferate at what can be a bewildering pace for those who need to also concentrate on maintaining and growing their core business. Yes, this is why you should consider engaging an agency – but that’s not my main argument here.
Brands need authenticity more than ever and they need to communicate it in a way that cuts through all the noise the proliferation of communications channels leads to.
After Trump’s surprise win much was made of the role social media – Facebook came in for particular scrutiny – played in confirming audience biases. Algorithms work out what we like to see, and what our online friends like to see, and serve up more of the same. These so-called filter bubbles become thought ghettos in which we never encounter ideas that challenge our own views of the world.
But authenticity for brands doesn’t work the same way at all. Audiences are more tuned into brands than ever – they can discuss the subtle distinctions about how different competitors make them feel. Brands are discussed and engaged with across the full range of online platforms millions of times each day. All of which makes it a great time to be a strong brand.
But there’s no such thing as post-truth authenticity and there are no shortcuts here. Social media and the power of digital makes everyone a potential influencer, or critic. A customer emotionally engaged by a brand’s delivery will share that, and online is a megaphone, amplifying positive sentiment. But brands that fail to live up to the image they have created for themselves will be punished – that’s why authenticity matters.
Finding authenticity begins with a conversation about purpose, values and what makes a brand – your brand – distinct. It might seem almost old-fashioned in our brave new, post-truth world but there is an opportunity here – brands that bring it back to integrity are more likely to stand out.