A return to authenticity.
In 2016 we all became blatantly aware of what half-truths, white lies, and shade looked like. According to Malcolm Gladwell (the author of The Tipping Point) the result of the US election was the result of 'a confluence of extraordinary one-offs’ and seemingly, he said, because the electorate felt they had some kind of 'moral license' to behave a little badly; having previously given a black president a second term, that they now could bring someone to office who was morally repugnant. Trump wasn’t elected for what he believes or how he behaves, but more that he just represented a step-change.
Interesting notions. This has given rise to some quite ugly stuff, like neo-nationalism, a rise in more overt racism and sexism – a retrenchment from more liberal tenets.
This all throws a greater light on what I believe has been a growing desire to come back to the bedrock values of truth and authenticity. How can anyone entertain something now coined ‘alternative facts’? As someone pointed out, aren’t these falsehoods? Yes, to every premise, there is a counter-premise. Climate change? Are we not all convinced? Yet it seems there is now a force in power trying to undo and debase that completely.
Authenticity and the drive to be ‘true to something’ is not only a way to stay true to oneself, but it also has the power to connect to others. Our audiences, consumers, customers and constituents are all starting to seek this out. They are now much more adept in using the bullshit-o-meter, and have become more cynical of what gets represented to them as truth.
Last year I heard Heather Armstrong (the original US Mummy Blogger) give a talk at Webstock on this very subject. Over time, her story had become distorted by how brands who use her channel have wanted her to ‘tweak’ how she represents herself so it better fitted their brand. She felt she was being compromised and opted out of such relationships in order to be truer to who she was. She believed there is more integrity in showing the dirty side of the room, to remove the filters, and to see the clutter.
She talks of ‘Pinteresterfication’, the curation of how we are perceived through image, and over social media in general. People’s lives are vastly different in reality from how they look on their social media accounts. Because people are subconsciously aware of how this all works, they are now questioning the real-ness of what they see.
With the proliferation of new media and channels, and with the power to choose how we view, and when, content has become king. Brands have become more interested in the volume and reach of what they do, ahead of the quality of that content. This has the effect of de-valuing the relationship they have with their end customers to the point it is more about getting in front of them, than what they get in front of them with.
People are now looking to those that show them respect for the relationship and attention with some kind of acknowledgement that an organisation understands who they are talking to. This is not a nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind of thing, but something that goes far deeper.
It is all about the power of reciprocal truth.
We’ve all become aware that we need to understand our audiences more intimately to connect with them better. But the other side of that coin is we need to get better about being more authentic with how we represent ourselves.
Let’s face it. We can communicate the virtue of anything a thousand different ways, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding. If the cereal is good for you, but tastes awful, it’s unlikely there'll be a repeat purchase. If the call centre promises to call you back because the queues are inordinately long, but don’t, you’re going to be less likely to trust what the organisation says at large.
We need to tell it like it is… and not promise an iota more.
We need to get to grips with who we really are as organisations, what values we ascribe to, what kind of people we want to have working alongside us, and what we are there to do (beyond making a profit for shareholders or even which sustainable returns we are driving). We need to understand what is at our heart, our core promise.
Once we have this, we have the best possible point to start from, an understanding that is grounded in an authentic manner as possible. From here we can then tell the most compelling stories, design the most useful services or sell products with the most compelling difference: the truth.
Phil Dunstan-Brown _ Creative Director