For the last few years I’ve been increasingly wondering about which sources of information are reliable. It’s all coming to a head these days, with the advent of “fake news,” which I’m sure will soon be fully adopted into the lexicon, if it hasn’t been already.
Humankind has always grappled with the big questions regarding “truth” – who we are, our purpose, the existence of God, and an afterlife – with all their unverifiable answers, often rooted in faith or tradition. Now it seems as if one requires just as much faith to believe anything we read online, or in our inbox. “Snopes” has helped some to alleviate the discomfort, but even it has its limitations and detractors. Schools don’t accept “Google” as a source. Google, and other “5-star” review systems are increasingly becoming suspect. Stories about fake and/or bought reviews are common. If we can’t even trust the mainstream media anymore (as the Trumpian hoards declare) then, where do we go?
One of the clients we design a quarterly publication for is the U.S.-based Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP). As the voice of the independent information industry, they are trusted to help clients understand the sources of information they use and the degree of reliability. Now, here’s an industry that seems to be increasingly valuable as our civilization, with all its technology, marches on. But can we expect that the AIIP, and organizations like it – not to mention ivory tower entities like Law and Politics – can become the watchdogs of truth? Not a chance. Not when it seems to have been proven that if you repeat a lie over and over enough times, it becomes reality.
So, I thought it would be less depressing to look inward in order to deal with all this. The world won’t change easily, but to some extent I have control over myself, and my own much more personal world. In my professional life that world is marketing, communications and design, which includes advertising. Advertising – the “A” word. I wonder sometimes if this entire ‘truthiness’ debacle grew from the roots of modern advertising and media. I was told back in the day, that when it came to marketing and advertising, “perception was more important than reality.” It certainly made sense at the time. We marketers must, on behalf of our clients, deal firstly with how they or their product is perceived in the marketplace, whether the perception is true or not, and sculpt a strategy or counter-strategy to create a favourable image of that product.
But it begs the question: does it matter if this favourable image is entirely true or not? I suspect that a lot of people in our business don’t think it matters. Personally, I can’t live that way. I was also taught that good marketing starts with a solid product or service, that gives real value to its customers. Now I’ve been fortunate enough to find colleagues of like mind. Just spend some time with this group and you’ll probably notice that integrity is just as important an “I” word as integration, when it comes to marketing. Safe to say then that as long as we draw a breath in this industry, we’ll take the high ground.
It’s important to listen closely to a client at the outset of any assignment, to gain real information about real value that they offer, so the marketing has the ring of truth, stands the test of time, and generates a legion of happy customers. The last thing anyone needs is for a customer to feel duped. Branding is all about making a promise to a customer, and delivering on that promise. The word “authenticity” has been tossed around our meetings lately. It’s not a bad word to grab hold of in these murky times.