A recent study by Viacom Velocity shows that 33% of people don’t believe there is such thing as the truth, and 51% sometimes don’t believe what mainstream culture considers “fact.”
Is truth the latest casualty of a post-trust society?
How do we market brands in the age of “fake news”?
Back in the day, it was enough to tell the truth and back it up with facts. But given our culture of information overload and contradictory facts, truth needs to not just be true but “feel true.”
Successful brands know how to harness this new type of truth-telling by offering emotional value along a customer’s journey. They do this in three ways: They let customers prove what’s true, they innovate in ways that feel true, and they help people express truth.
On the first type of truth-telling, nothing is more effective than the old “don’t take our word for it, try it out.” It makes people feel smart and important, even if we go on to make poor choices. It’s human nature to question and experiment; that’s how we learn that fire burns. We’re wired to trust no one’s experience but our own. This type of truth-telling is key during the purchase stage and, more often than not, requires investment in the real world.
Nike, for example, offers free return of its shoes for any reason within 30 days of purchase. “Any reason” includes me running in my brand-new Nikes for 29 days. As a runner, it is tempting to try other brands, but why would I? Nike gets me; it knows I’m serious about my running and won’t let other brands define the kind of running shoes I like. So even if the shoe doesn’t fit, I’ve come to believe that it’s true that it gets runners like no other brand.
The second way to harness truth is to recognize that it can’t be explained, only felt. And innovate accordingly.
This is most powerful during the advocacy stage, when you can tap into a brand fan base to test brand extensions. Innovation without input from hard-core brand lovers is tempting but a mistake. If you asked Beyoncé fans to describe her “truth,” what they love about her, it won’t be very useful. However, they know almost instinctively when something is “on” or “off” brand.
A brand that innovates while staying close to its core of brand lovers is Whalebone — a printed magazine, radio station and apparel company based in Montauk, N.Y., with a serious following and advertising support at a time when people aren’t flocking to traditional media. What are they selling? If you heard the founders speak, it’s “Montauk lifestyle.” What is that exactly? It probably means different things to different people. But by listening to their fans, they expanded their offering and created touchpoints that represent the unique lifestyle of a small, local fishing community that comes alive in the summer.
The third way of truth-telling is when you help people tell their own truth.
What marketers often forget is that there are profound reasons to customer behavior. Successful brands sell more than just products and services; they know how to solve inner conflicts or tensions that people have. This type of truth-telling is most useful during the discovery stage, when you’re trying to draw attention to your brand and gain new customers.
A brand that does a great job at this is Instagram. Of all the social networks, it recognized early on the need for anonymity and an endless appetite for visual stimulation in our culture. In a world increasingly impatient with the written word, an image can tell a thousand words. As suspicious as we’ve become of facts, Instagram knows that we’re a lot more trusting of what we can see with our own eyes. And visual storytelling is at the core of the truth it sells.
In summary, truth is as compelling as ever, but there is a reframing of what constitutes truth. To aid customers through their journey, make sure your brand feels true every step of the way.