In these days of social media, of Twitter and Facebook, brands can’t dupe customers — so instead they must tell the truth. That’s the central message of this book by Sue Unerman and Jonathan Salem Baskin. So doing better – better products, real change – is a welcome undertow of the narrative. Better companies will do better still, and there will be less scope for gulling customers through fakery.
Much of the book is about how to take advantage of social media, rather than being unravelled by it. Copious dust-jacket endorsement suggests that this is an important contribution to an important branch of business, and anyone in communications or marketing will want to be alert to it. For the rest of us, including this reviewer, it may also enforce a sense that the rest of the world and all its dark arts are rapidly cottoning on to new media.
For of course, the authors don’t really mean ‘tell the truth’. Instead, they mean ‘lie more effectively’ – otherwise it wouldn’t be marketing. From the outset, Unerman and Baskin make it clear that telling the truth doesn’t mean full disclosure leading to banality or utility; Rolex is not going to start reminding us that luxury watches are premised on a gross profit margin of 60 percent, most of which is spent on marketing. But the point well made is that brands that pursue off-topic celebrity endorsement, or gratifying emotional content saying little about the actual product, do so at their peril.
The rest is context and story telling. Volkswagen is currently appealing to a certain generation by trying to sell its new Beetle via references to the long heritage of a model that reaches right back to the sixties. The product might not amount to much, but marketeers can suck people into an emotional truth that still results in purchases. That’s called brand narrative, and there’s a great deal of it right now.
There’s also plenty here about New Media changing Old Media. The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, not to mention Fox news, have exchanged traditional media voices for a different tone premised on realism and thus — in some sense — truth telling, even where it may be the opposite.
Ultimately, one's success — as individual or organisation — depends on authenticity, or at least the perception of authenticity. The internet and social media have caused this shift, and we live in a world of unprecedented transparency as a result.