Rethinking Sales and Marketing in the 'Post-Truth' Era

The Oxford English Dictionary made “post-truth” its 2016 Word of the Year, noting that use of the word had increased 2,000 percent over its usage in 2015. Oxford defined post-truth as occurring when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Related: Fake News and the Threat to Your Brand: 4 Things You Can Do About It Now

Wikipedia’s entry, meanwhile, chimed in with its own definition of post-truth as “the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.”

All well and good. But, you have to wonder: Are these definitions talking about politics or sales and marketing?

The reason I ask is that part of running any company entails communicating with your market and employees. In every one of those interactions. you’re called on to make decisions about “the truth.” And many of those decisions are non-controversial, while others entice you to be more liberal in your characterization of the truth — as in, “We now have over 1,000 customers” — since the definition of “customer” is often stretched to be as flattering as possible.

What’s more, in the Post-Truth Era, you might be wondering, Will I need to be even more liberal in my treatment of “the truth” just to keep up with my competitors? Actually, now seems like the perfect time to make truth a priority: You can differentiate yourself from your competitors and increase your chances for long-term loyalty and customer growth by emphasizing clarity, honesty and reality.

Stretching the truth, on the other hand, is tempting; but misleading customers can have disastrous consequences. One recent example was Volkswagen’s fuel efficiency claims for its diesel vehicles, which resulted in billions of dollars of lost value. Another was the Irish meat company Tesco, which lost over $ 400 million in market cap in its horse meat fiasco. Trust and credibility are hard to come by, and very easy to lose.

Related: Sharing Fake News Can Hurt Your Reputation

Laws protect consumers from false advertising, but they probably aren’t going to help you deal with a misleading competitor. Remember when POM sued Coca-Cola over the latter’s Minute-Maid blueberry-pomegranate juice (which contained less than 0.5 percent of both fruits, combined)? That case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, a California jury decided in favor of post-truth juice.

So, there it is: The truth is not always self-evident, meaning you’ll need to win by persuading the market that the truth matters.

Every day, we are tempted to mislead in small ways, by stretching the truth just a bit. And, in the sales and marketing universe, teams are measured on short-term goals. It’s therefore natural for them to want to make trade-offs that don’t prioritize the long-term needs of their company and brand.

Which way do you choose to go? Here are four things you can do to make truth a competitive advantage:

1. Define your standards for truth.

Truth is a term that gets thrown around by people in every department in your company, but it’s likely rhat everyone has a different definition. What’s the truth about your product? Your engineers would say “Read the documentation,” while your sales and marketing teams would say there’s a bigger story to tell that is tailored for each customer.

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