Brands: The Longtime Unchallenged Champs of Fake News

man in rubber nose and glassesWhat is “fake news”?  In the political world, it’s basically any news, true or not, you don’t want to hear.  Or it’s news that’s true but you wish it wasn’t, so you process it as if it weren’t.  Or it’s news that makes you feel bad emotions instead of good ones.  All are fine definitions.

In a marketing context, the definition of fake news gets even clearer.  It’s something a brand tells us that simply isn’t true.  The marketers and sales reps may want it to be true, may have been ordered to act like it’s true, have maybe even genuinely convinced themselves it is true; but from the prospect’s point of view, it eventually becomes unavoidably obvious it’s just not.

In the purview of what we deal in, which is making sure solid storytelling is applied to content marketing and communications, you’ll find an all too receptive audience for much of this corporate fake news.  Why?  Because when someone is communicating with us, our minds are actively looking for a gratifying story; one that includes a vexing problem, high stakes, a true hero, and a happy ending for all.

The public is pre-wired to want to get a great story from you.  They’re far more open to your communications, if done well, than you may have thought.  So imagine the feelings that leap from neuron to neuron in the brain when the consumer of your content finds out that you exaggerated, that you embellished, that current users aren’t experiencing the success you talked about, that the product doesn’t yet do everything you mentioned, that there are hidden costs, that you gave them fake news.  We don’t like to be played for fools.  It’s insulting, and the insulters usually aren’t rewarded with positive feelings or second chances.

But our industry has always given ourselves a big juicy free pass on the untrue and the misleading.  Hell, we pat the best practitioners of it on the back for it.  And then we scratch our heads trying to figure out why marketing has become so difficult, ignoring the cumulative effects of hype gone wild.

Enter into this landscape, artificial intelligence and marketing automation.

Computer scientist Dr. Finale Doshi-Velez of Harvard is concerned.  Not so much about AI deciding humans are just one big obstacle that needs to be destroyed.  She’s more worried about making mistakes in algorithm design that affect many people in ways we never wanted or intended.

This, in her opinion, is what has unleashed the fake news Frankenstein into our world.  The point of the internet became to make money, so the intelligence, the algorithms, was built to do that and only that.  Publishers now had to get clicks, and by any means necessary.  That meant inflaming self-segregated audiences.  And in the inflaming business, there’s no room for deep analysis, intelligent debate, covering both sides, gate-keeping, or truth.  Don’t blame the algorithms powering Google and Facebook, they’re only doing what they were told.

As we build our technology stacks and grow our marketing automation practices, we are now faced with the challenge of making sure we don’t generate unintended consequences that rear their ugly heads in our content.  We have to resist capturing attention by any means necessary when that means elevating brand fake news and untrue content to a new art.  Sure, you might hit a few of your up front metrics, but truth is a stubborn thing that always finds a way to reveal itself.  You’ll feel extreme pain in the retention, expansion and brand ambassador sections of the funnel.

A friend of mine always advises me, “sell what’s true.”  Turn your brand’s truths into tremendous stories, then confidently tell that story in countless ways with masterfully crafted content.

Want to know if your current brand story contains all the essential elements? Reach out to

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