It’s not easy to avoid discussion in the press or on social media about the “Post Truth” era. Since that election, publications in all their forms have come under close scrutiny. It turns out that there are towns in Eastern Europe where the local labour force is devoted to churning out fake news, and that the soft-propaganda offensive is used by a range of actors from hackers to political insiders.
But what do we care? The marketing industry has been used to bending the truth since the dawn of advertising, right? I mean, we have to draw the line at the misrepresentation of news stories, but nobody would be surprised if the sales process involved a little exaggeration?
Well, I beg to differ.
Marketers certainly aim to present their products in the best possible light. However, the opportunity for businesses to posture beyond their deserving reputations has narrowed dramatically, for many reasons.
We are more connected than ever before, and nobody would book a hotel or buy a car without checking out reputational histories on a review site. Similarly, we do further research among friends on social media or use price comparison websites.
Not only does that mean that there’s less wiggle room for brands, consumers have become more discerning in the process. For example, we are getting better at spotting, on a review site, whether a criticism is justified, or whether it’s the grouching of a habitual moaner.
Consumers similarly intricately understand the mechanics of market segmentation. They know that a Ryanair flight will involve a different experience to Etihad, and fully comprehend that the price differential reflects a marketing decision.
Consumers are brand experts.
In particular, they can rapidly spot whether a marketing campaign has substance and is backed up by the strategic commitment of managers and staff, or whether it’s a throwaway hashtag with no foundation in reality.
This is true in B2B marketing too. After all, businesspeople are consumers when they take their suits off.
The public is rightly holding brands to account. They know that their loyalty is priceless in a seamless online world and that they can take their business elsewhere like never before. Whilst I take great pleasure in bringing the creative process to a client’s marketing, I would always recommend beginning with the unvarnished truth. Not because there might be skeletons in the cupboard somewhere, but because the fundamental promise of a business is its inviolable truth, the basis of which it can profitably keep its customers happy and coming back for more.
It will be a mighty strange world if we can trust brands more than news outlets; but I guarantee you, there is more commercial value in truth than embellishment.