Storytelling In The Age Of Fake News

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We live in a world plagued by rampant untruths and public skepticism. The implications these have on every aspect of business and communications is monumental.

As a communicator -- or as I prefer, storyteller -- in the industry for nearly three decades, I’ve never experienced such a challenging time and drastic shift in my role. In this age of fake news, brand reputations are more volatile than ever before. Businesses are competing for limited attention while institutions less trusted and brands are expected to adhere to core values a central purpose.

Further, we live in a world where a single negative tweet or post, which may or may not contain falsehoods, has the potential to cause long-standing damage to a company. As a result, it’s more important now to provide compelling, authentic and transparent communications. Powerful, truthful storytelling combined with frictionless experiences are imperative to positively influencing the awareness, affinity and action of the people who matter most to businesses.

In order to effectively tell stories in this current age, companies need to:

1. Ensure communications across all channels and platforms are consistent.

The messages companies share with the public via their websites or social media need to align with the messages shared in shareholder meetings with investors. This isn’t to say that there can’t be nuances between the two tracks, but overall, the core themes and values need to be consistent.

In particular, we see this disconnect with internal and external communications. Often, what’s said to employees isn’t communicated broadly to the public. However, in today's environment, companies need to communicate internally knowing that anything can easily be leaked to the press or via social media. It’s a different time from a few decades ago, and the only way to keep pace is to provide consistency and transparency.

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2. Identify and clearly communicate core values and purpose.

Today's consumers tend to gravitate toward brands with a purpose. In fact, a 2017 Cone Communications study revealed that the majority (87%) of consumers would purchase a product based on values. In other words, consumers look for companies that support and advocate for issues they care about. On the other hand, 76% of consumers surveyed said they would boycott a brand if it supported an issue that opposed their beliefs.

With that said, a brand’s purpose can’t be artifice; it must truly reflect an organization’s core values and common mission. Jumping on a bandwagon of any kind that doesn’t align with what you stand for is a recipe for disaster. It comes off as inauthentic and a way to manipulate current trends and societal issues. Brands need to turn inwards and determine their worth and value in the world and then communicate this clearly and authentically.

3. Develop compelling narratives founded in absolute truths.

Today, more than ever, the narratives we push out as companies and brands need to be compelling. We all need to rightfully claim our position as storytellers -- but not those specialized in fiction. Every single piece of information and narrative thread we publish needs to be steeped in absolute truths. Consumers are savvier than ever before and will call out companies that stray from this line and seek to manipulate them, knowingly or not.

4. Establish a structure where marketing and communications aren’t siloed.

For many years, marketing and communications were loosely connected through a dotted line in many organizations. However, in this day and age, they must be fully integrated to achieve consistency and efficacy.

While marketing language can certainly be more self-promotional than say a press release, both need to inform one another. This happens by ensuring that these departments, structures or employees work side-by-side to push out all and any forms of communications to key stakeholders.

5. Provide effortless, enjoyable and informative experiences.

The expectations of consumers are greater today than ever before. This means that companies need to ensure they’re providing true value that’s worthy of consumers’ time and attention.

To do this, all communications must be frictionless, enjoyable and informative to ladder up to an overall superior customer experience. This means constantly asking yourself when developing communications and marketing efforts, why it matters, how it offers value to consumers and whether it will delight, surprise, inform, etc.

6. Leverage data-based insights to inform and enhance your narrative.

Today, there are millions of data points to sort through, all measured by different platforms in different ways. The challenge lies in understanding how to leverage this data to turn insights into informed action. This requires layering a human-friendly filter and lens over the information to make sense of it. If done correctly, data-based insights can help build more compelling narratives and create incredible and measurable experiences for consumers.

It’s a tall order for communicators and marketers in today’s world to achieve each and every component of the above. But in a world where challenger brands are spurting up left and right -- where the public’s expectations are higher than ever and there's an overall apprehension regarding institutions -- it’s necessary to survive and thrive both now and into the future.