Some things do take a little longer to get here than you expect. But that doesn’t mean they’re not coming eventually. It’s a year since my book, Tell The Truth: Honesty Is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool (co-authored with Jonathan Salem Baskin), was published. In the epilogue to the book, we said: "More and more marketers are turning away from easily constructed spin and digging deep into the truth of their brands. We believe that in five years we’ll look back on the art of spin as an anachronism." One year on, where are we?
My American co-author can, like many a genuine iconoclast, be hard on what progress there has been. In his recent new publication that tackles the very definition of brands, Branding Still Only Works On Cattle, he writes: "It’s 2013 now, and the crisis I thought I saw has proven to be a chronic affliction."
I’m more optimistic. I’ve just been judging some international awards so have had a window on what the industry considers worth shortlisting. I can’t disclose brands as the judging is in progress but from the 17-strong shortlist, most campaigns contained a core of truth-telling, although one outlier entry actually did the very opposite. Good work is always based on truthful consumer insights. Truth is a key criteria that distinguishes good from bad. The question is whether the truth agenda is present in every marketing conversation?
My personal experience is that it is but sometimes still as a route that must be discounted for one reason or another. Some voices still urge caution in meeting rooms around town, as if representing the consumer truth in communications should be played down, or even is a slippery slope that is to be avoided at all costs. So there is mixed progress. I think more and more people are joining the ranks of truth tellers in communications, but the speed of the progress is unquestionably nowhere near as fast as the change in consumer behaviour.
The reason that truth has risen up the agenda is that digital innovation and social media make this an imperative. As Jon and I wrote in Tell The Truth: "Half-a-century ago, advertising pioneer David Ogilvy said: 'The consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.' Now, the consumer is the expert who knows everything about your brand. What’s missing can be uncovered on a smartphone from a variety of sources." More and more sources, in fact. The latest Deloitte Media Consumer Survey, Love In A Cold Climate, points out that device proliferation continues to grow. The average UK citizen now owns 11.4 types of media devices (up from 9.7 in 2011). Deloitte concludes that, despite the recessionary times, "UK consumers’ love of technology seems undiminished… and with new products such as wearable devices on the verge of commercial launch, consumers will become even more connected".
More connected. More knowledgeable about your brand. More exacting of the truth.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom