What does post-truth mean for marketers?

Fuelled by commentary on the EU referendum in the UK and the US presidential election, Oxford Dictionaries has named ‘post-truth’ as the word of 2016. Post-truth politics, it says, operates in an era where truth has become irrelevant. Does this mean that customer and product truths are now irrelevant? And if so, what should marketers focus on instead? As a colleague said to me last week, "So what are we supposed to do now? Lie?"

The truth in post-truth

In many ways, this is nothing new. In the last decade, neuroscience has provided insight into how consumers make buying decisions, and truth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Previously there was a widespread belief that buying decisions were rational - consumers weigh up the attributes and benefits that a brand offers and then make a decision. However, neuroscience studies suggest that, in reality, over 90% of those decisions are actually made on auto-pilot and then may be post-rationalised. As Professor George Lowenstein, a leader in the field of behavioural economics, explains “Rather than actually guiding or controlling behavior, consciousness seems mainly to make sense of behavior after it is executed.” So there is clearly some truth in post-truth.

Another post-truth reality we should be aware of is that, 51% of us now use social media as a news source, (the most popular networks being Facebook and YouTube), and more 18-24 year olds cite social media as their main source of news than TV or newspapers[1]. As Michael Gove claimed during the Brexit campaign, people have ‘had enough’ of experts, which is why as marketers we all need influencer and advocacy strategies.

Post-truth marketing

So how do we embrace post-truth as marketers and appeal to our customers’ deeper emotions and beliefs? In a world of mistrusted facts and institutions, the only reality is customers’ experience of your brand. To overcome your customers’ cynicism, that experience needs to remain consistent across every touchpoint and be rooted in a deeper belief that customers share: your brand’s purpose.

Simply put, brands or organisations need a clear purpose to guide their actions. They must ensure that behaviours and decisions that support this purpose are recognised, rewarded and demonstrated by their leaders. Unilever’s purpose of ‘making sustainable living commonplace’ has been led from the top by Paul Polman and his leadership team and executed across their brands, such as Lifebuoy soap’s vision to bring health and hygiene to a billion people.

Following setting the purpose, is the design of customer experiences that continually deliver for customers. Purposeful customer experiences are proven to drive purchase intent, loyalty, higher prices, advocacy and ultimately growth. However, they need to be seamless and joined up in order to win the trust of our post-truth customer. Only through consistent execution will they become part of the customer’s long-term memory structures so that they choose the brand on auto-pilot.

Experience principles

Establishing experience principles for the brand, will guide cross-functional teams to deliver the brand purpose consistently across the customer experience. The principles should be developed using your brand values and insight, and must be practical and relevant across all experience levers including engagement, innovation and pricing. Great examples of these principles in action can be seen in Virgin Group’s ‘Always being transparent and responsive’.

Brand Learning’s latest study, Join up to stand apart, provides fresh insights and practical solutions on how to develop customer experiences with purpose at their heart and includes in-depth case studies from over 20 leading organisations such as Amazon, Virgin, First Direct, and Airbnb. For practical tips and examples that will help you deliver a purposeful and consistent customer experience, download the report. If you would like us to present the report findings and discuss how your organisation could become more joined-up, please get in touch.


[1] The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism research Digital new report 2016

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