April 13, 2017

In a post-truth world, is truth the new secret weapon?


“Post-Truth” is the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016, and in this “post-truth” era, there are new challenges in communicating.

In times past, it was much easier to control the flow of information, and to sweep things under the rug. Companies were able to bury facts they did not want their consumers, stakeholders and employees to know – often inevitably ending with catastrophic repercussions if the truth did out. Enter ‘post-truth’: a world where information is ubiquitous and where we believe that truth is the secret weapon.

In our present post-truth world, the objectives within your communications strategy may not have changed, but the landscape has, and how you navigate that is vital in order for your brand to prosper. Every brand and thought leader rightfully wants to be known as trustworthy; authentic and clearly communicating their purpose. What you communicate is only part of the battle. It is how you communicate that also helps determine whether you are viewed as truthful and trustful. In today’s marketplace, brands are shouting louder and louder, where what they should be doing is listening more closely – to their consumers and stakeholders, as well as to what is happening around them.

Your audience, whether this includes employees, customers or potential customers, investors, media and government officials, should be able to hear a consistent authentic voice every time they hear or read your words.  Communicating truthfully and openly is one of the secret ingredients for success. Making an honest and emotional connection to your audience sometimes means more than just stating what the facts are.  It is how you will solidify your brand and establish loyal customers. It is how you connect and build a community.

With that, we’ve put together four components to enable you to communicate authentically and with trust in a “post-truth” era:

  • Know what you are articulating: Your actions and behaviors are an expression of your brand.  Every channel, email, newsletter, social media post, interview and conversation should reflect your values.  Know what your brand stands for, what you do, what the company’s mission and purpose is. This is most important in times of crisis, take United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’s initial statement this week, which has been widely criticized as one of the biggest PR disasters of the year for not reflecting any of United’s values of respect, integrity or competence.
  • Back to basics as your first defense: During its exploding devices crisis and ensuing product recall, Samsung acted with such speed and consistently honest communications that its revenue has reached a three-year high despite a tumultuous year. Keep an open dialogue with all of your audiences – including employees, media, investors, customers and potential customers. Make sure you are transparent, and be sure to follow through. Your audience will emotionally connect with someone who is honest. Things go wrong and people make mistakes so don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability, but deal with the issue quickly, and move on.
  • Live with purpose: Let people know why you are reaching out or what your reasoning is for doing something.  Some companies reach out only to hear themselves talk.  But equally, in the current political and social landscape, being ‘reactionary’ is not enough. A brand that does not know or articulate what it stands for risks fading into the background and neglects its values.
  • Having courage gives you authenticity. Be bold enough to articulate your position, even at the risk of antagonizing your target audience. Earlier this year, Lyft demonstrated its steadfastness to its values. On the back of Trump’s Immigration Ban, Uber faced tremendous backlash for capitalizing on taxi drivers’ choice to protest. Travis Kalanick’s subsequent statement that Uber would help drivers affected by the ban fell on deaf ears – the damage had been done.  Meanwhile, Lyft stayed out of the debate, choosing to remain authentic to their brand rather than push to make money – and released a message the following day decreeing the ban went against everything Lyft stands for.

By telling the truth and sometimes allowing your emotions to show, your brand is humanized. This will speak volumes as people are driven by emotion, so own up to errors or mistakes and your audience will connect and in turn, trust you.  Honesty is one of, if not the greatest asset for a brand in this post-truth environment.  Brands need to learn to live it and own it.