I listen to a lot of podcasts, if only as a way to redeem all the chopped up bits of time I seem to have in my car. For business learning I tend to favor the unpolished enthusiasm of ‘casts such as the relatively new Mastering Social Business by Kelly Noble and Paul Serwin. But I also listen to more established voices, including that of Mitch Joel and his Six Pixels of Separation. He and his guests typically have lot to offer, once you get past the self-congratulatory plugging of upcoming books or the hubristic backslapping of bright guys buying their own press.
Is Your Brand All About the Truth?
Speaking of books and hubris, a recent Six Pixels guest, Jonathan Baskin (prolific author, columnist, marketing consultant) caught my ear with this whopper of a comment:
“I hate the word content… We brand marketing folks don’t create content… we share truth.”
Wow. Brand marketers share truth (and content marketers, presumably, share something less). Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m with Baskin in the apparent premise of his new book (which I have yet to read), Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool. In fact, the elevator speech for Creative on Call has, for sometime, been that we are a “…creative services company that helps marketers identify and communicate the simple truth about brands…” And I still quaintly but firmly believe that building marketing programs on a foundation of rational and emotional truth is the best (perhaps only) way to build brand trust.
“My Brand is the Way and The Truth and The Lifestyle. No one comes to the Market Except by Me.” What’s missing for me in all this is a sense of perspective, even humility – and I don’t mean from Baskin, I mean from the advertising and marketing industry as a whole. Marketers wanting to traffic in the truth will do well to remember a few key points:
- Brand evangelism is just an expression. In selling sodas and hawking hotels, we may be pushing a lifestyle, but we’re not promoting a path to cosmic consciousness or even worldly wholeness. We’re selling stuff.
- We are sales people, not preachers. And like good sales people, we may be great listeners, entertainers, educators… but we cannot believably pretend to be apostles of the Truth, with a capital T. People don’t buy it (Neilsen reports that less than half of all people trust paid advertising, the lifeblood of brand marketers, and that confidence level is steadily declining year after year).
- There’s nothing wrong with selling stuff. There’s a tendency toward denial, especially among my creative kin, about the fact that all of our efforts, our time, our creativity is being channeled into selling. But why? It’s not a four letter word (OK, creative people might use it more freely if it was). By being honest about what we’re doing, we can engage more comfortably, and believably, with consumers, and encourage them to engage with us. Earning media might, of course, call for content marketing, to add a little pull to the paid media push (the same Neilsen report notes very high levels of trust in earned media).
It would also require creative folks like me to embrace the fact that we’re creating ads, not art. After all, what’s wrong with that? We’re former English and Art majors lucky enough to have stumbled into a lucrative profession. Enjoy it for what it is, drop the pretense, and get on with business! (This is not to say, however, that one need not be artful in the approach to creating ads… it’s still human-to-human communication, at least if you want it to work).
I hope Mr. Baskin is successful in convincing hoards of brand marketers to take up the banner of truth in advertising; if it becomes more than self-congratulatory corporate speak, marketers and their consumers should both profit.