Looking back on 2016, the decision by Oxford’s Dictionary to name ‘post-truth’ as their word of the year feels remarkably prescient. I honestly thought that the fudging of the truth done by Brexit campaigners and Trump’s liberal use of facts were going to be an aberration, that ‘post-truth’ is just going to a word-of-the-moment thing that would quickly fall out of favor but it turns out I was wrong. We’re now about 6 months into 2019 and it’s been firmly established that we’re now living in a post-truth era.
The year 2016 opened up our eyes on how disruptively powerful fake news can be, especially when combined with the far-reaching power of social media. On a large scale, they can be used to effectively hijack a referendum and a presidential election while on a much smaller scale, these distortions of truths and facts can be used to create a brand narrative to bolster its standings. It’s the latter that is going to be the focus of our discussion and one that should be of particular interest to marketers and SEO services alike.
Brand storytelling in the age of alternative facts
Mere weeks after 2016 ended, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager and now counselor to the president, underscored the absurdity of the age we live in when she used the phrase ‘alternative facts’ in a discussion about the attendance numbers for Trump’s inauguration, which was notably smaller than the one for Obama’s. Last year, just as Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s administration was ramping up, the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, made waves by saying that ‘truth isn’t truth’ and that facts are essentially in the eyes of the beholder.
This depressing line of thinking isn’t just strictly limited to the political world; we’ve seen several marketing examples in the past few years that eerily resemble these talking points. First, we have the comically absurd case of Billy McFarland’s Fyre Festival, where a promise of a luxurious festival experience in the Bahamas turned out to be a real-life reenactment of The Hunger Games. There’s also the case of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos where she went from holding the number one spot in a list of richest self-made women in Forbes in 2015 to being charged for defrauding investors in 2018.
In both of these cases, they both were pushing a certain kind of narrative that holds little to no basis on the truth and as expected, the backlash for both was as harsh as they were swift. Elizabeth Holmes in particular, with a black turtleneck and an eccentric personality that is not unlike Steve Jobs, was extensively covered in the mainstream media for a few years before her house of cards came tumbling down. Both McFarland and Holmes are now famous for all the wrong reasons and that’s the kind of future prepared for you once you start playing around with the facts.
Latching on to a truthful narrative
Finding a great pair of jeans is easy; you can easily find quality raw selvedge denim made by small, premium brands all over Australia but so far, the only denim brand I actually love is Sweden’s Nudie Jeans. Not because of the quality of their product but because their commitment to sustainability. Loving a brand’s product is different from loving a brand and this is what makes brand storytelling potentially powerful as they can inspire the kind of loyalty that quality products simply won’t be able to.
The key to this loyalty however is trust and the funny thing with trust is that once they’re broken, they’re not something that could easily be regained and the internet has a ridiculously long memory. From here on out, every single time you look up McFarland’s or Holmes’ name on Google, you’re going to be presented with a chronicle of their misdeeds. I don’t know if this is a case of Wikipedia vandalism but Billy McFarland’s occupation is now listed as fraudster, not entrepreneur as he originally claimed.
Finding your own truth
A brand’s narrative is their identity and if a brand doesn’t have an identity, what would make you stand out from an ocean of similar businesses. It would be like trying to connect to a machine that churns out one product after another. Sure, the product might be of a high quality but they would be sorely lacking in personality. Dig deep into your business (or yourself) and try to find out what makes you, you and try to use the same line of thinking into your company.
A life unexamined is not a life worth living and trust me when I say that a dash of existential crisis every now and then is actually good for your soul. Asking those big questions can be life-affirming and they might be just exactly what you need to discover your brand’s truth. If you’ve been asking those questions for a while now and you still find yourself without an answer, then you might have bigger problems than just your marketing. Your brand identity should serve as the core foundation of your business, including your marketing, and without a message to send, your marketing would just be pure fluff.