(Or as some might say: “alternative facts”)
As I listen every day to news, political, social and business commentary, and even marketing and advertising, I am struck by a recurring theme – a recurring problem – the very loose connection, at best, that many of our current forms of communication and discourse have with anything resembling objective truth. We live in an era where truth appears to be fungible. An era where one current senior political operative offered up an explanation for obvious factual discrepancies as “alternative facts”. And here, I naively thought there were just facts…and not facts.
Whatever one’s political persuasion, I don’t think any of us imagined that we would live in a world where there is no objective truth regarding fact or falsehoods; where fiction and non-fiction are no longer distinct; where truth is just whatever you need it to be in the moment. Simply offer up “alternative facts” and anything you don’t like becomes “fake” because you say it is.
Yet, here we are.
So, as I watch and listen to all of this with sadness and concern for where it ultimately leads us, I wonder – has it infected our world of marketing and communications in the non-political realm? Have we as practitioners of the craft of marketing and communications let ourselves fall into the trap of simply marketing whatever is expedient, whatever might move the needle in sales, whatever might drive more transactions? Within the core of what we practice and do every day – the Art of the Story – have we let our commitment to authenticity wane?
I know there are some who think we in the marketing, communications and advertising field are in poor position to comment on what is true or not and that we fell into this trap a long time ago. And, given some particularly egregious offenses in marketing and advertising in the past, I understand fully why some would think that.
However, I respectfully disagree.
The reason I disagree is the reason I am still hopeful that in our discipline of marketing we really are striving to anchor what we do in truth and authenticity. The reason is actually pretty straightforward, and ironic when compared to our current political environment. Apparently in politics today you can win elections based on inauthenticity and fiction. But, in marketing in the business world, inauthenticity will, with certainty, severely damage your company, your relationship with your customers, employees, stakeholders, and can ultimately destroy your brand. In other words, in our world of marketing and business, there is a real hard-edged cost to losing your footing in what is authentic or not: in what is simply true or not.
A lack of truth and authenticity can (and will) kill your company.
The Art of the Story is, and always has been, about understanding and communicating the authentic truth of your story, which is your brand, as a company or organization. The ‘art’ part of that phrase is not simply great creative or copy. The art is in getting to your “Why”. The art, and the power of, your story is truly distilling, honing and refining that story – in such a way that your story becomes compelling and transformative for your customers. It’s based on your fundamental purpose as an organization and the impact or outcome you have on your customers. It is how you understand, create, and disseminate your own story about why you do what you do.
Not just what you do, but why you do it.
In that why, you are forced to be truthful, with your customers – and with yourself. The Art of the Story is crafting and speaking the truth of your story in such a way that it is actually not really even about you at all. It is really about your customers and the difference you make in their lives once they engage with you, buy from you, stay with you. In other words, it is when your customer has been transformed from simply being a customer into being an advocate for your brand, products and company – because you have authentically made an impact or difference in their lives and they want your story and brand to be part of their own story and brand.
For a company selling products or services, there are only two things that will determine the success or failure of that company: their story, and their customer’s real experience of that story. Everything else in a company is the filler of how you get from one to the other; how you deliver the story followed by how you deliver the proof of that story in the experiences that your customers have with your company, products and services. That will turn out to either be true or not. “Alternative facts” are not an option.
In other words, we as marketers don’t really have the choice, even if we have tried occasionally in the past, to market or communicate inauthenticity. Unlike what happens in our politics today, your customers are ruthless in making determinations about truth or falsehood, fact or fiction. Because of this, God help the company or the marketer that thinks they can adopt the current practices we see in other areas of communication and marketing today. We, and our clients, just won’t survive it.
And for that, I am grateful.
Learn more from the experts on Transformational Marketing and how to understand and communicate the authentic truth of your story by previewing Dave Sutton’s new book: Marketing, Interrupted.