4 Ways Brands Can Rise Above Fake News in the Post-Truth Era

Building trust in today's challenging environments

We're living in the post-truth era—a landscape characterized by alternative facts and fake news—and it doesn't appear to be going away any time soon. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents to a recent consumer survey from The Morning Consult agree Americans have become less trusting in recent years. 

This can be a particularly challenging environment for brands, as they look to communicate with consumers in authentic ways that foster and facilitate trust. Channels like social media have struggled to quell the rampant spread of fake news stories in recent years, making it increasingly difficult for brands to control their narrative with consumers. Moreover, this has made certain platforms such as Facebook challenging environments for brands to exist among the fake-news clutter. 

As we prepare for what's undoubtedly going to be another turbulent election and media cycle, successful brands must accept this reality and develop strategies to rise above fake news.

Below are some ways brands can cut through the noise, reach their audience and leave a positive impression.

Present a cohesive narrative to consumers.

One of the best ways brands can put forth an authentic narrative is to align messaging across every customer touch point, from website to product packaging, social media and advertising. When messaging across different channels is inconsistent, it can lead consumers to question the legitimacy and authenticity of the brand.

But aligning messaging across an increasing number of media channels can prove challenging, as narratives can easily become misaligned if thought about within a silo. Agencies can support brands as they navigate this process, helping ensure that regardless of the channel utilized, the overall theme remains consistent and true to the same brand values across all touchpoints.

Back up your brand values with action.

It's not enough to just get the messaging right. Brands need to go a step further and act honestly within the narrative they're putting out into the world. And in the 2020 landscape, it's especially important for brands to show consumers narrative ownership by backing it up with action. Nearly 70 percent of consumers say it's very important to them that brands deliver consistently on what they promise when considering trust.

Corporate social responsibility is growing in importance among today's consumers. Especially among younger generations, 94 percent of Gen Z and 87 percent of millennials believe companies should address social and environmental issues, according to a study from Cone Communications. Consumers want to feel good about the products they purchase and brands shouldn't ignore the power they have to make an impact. 

Focus on marketing context.

Once brands have a refined narrative bolstered by real-life action, they have to get tactical about how they broadcast their message. Agencies can help brands find the right contextual environments where they aren't fighting to have their voice heard. Combining effective targeting with relevant context can help ensure a brands message can stand out in a truthful and authentic way. 

Sometimes the right context may be something unexpected. More than 70 percent of consumers correlate protection of their personal data with trust of brand. In response to this trend, some direct-to-consumer brands like Casper, Away and Harry's are finding success with out-of-home (OOH) units—effectively removing themselves from any conversations around data and privacy and returning to more traditional methods of media to introduce their name to prospective consumers.

Be upfront about data.

It's not realistic to expect brands to turn away from digitally targeted channels, given their efficiency and scale. Instead, the smartest thing brands can do is be honest and upfront with consumers about the fact that they are targeting certain consumers and be transparent about the reason why.

This interaction between consumers online data and brands is no secret. They visit a website, they're served an ad elsewhere, and they know exactly what's happening. If brands find a way to communicate to consumers that, yes, they're using their data, but in an effort to make their lives more convenient, it will offer a unique theme of transparency to help brands rise above the fake news and skepticism narrative consuming today's world.

The bottom line.

Every marketing strategy and campaign a brand deploys today must take into account the challenges unique to this post-truth era. While it may be easier than ever for brands to broadcast messages to a wide, diverse audience in a niche, targeted way, it also has become easier for fake news to spread and more difficult to build trust with consumers.

In some cases, the industry has exploited the current era of fake news and data personalization in a way that has contributed to the growing narrative of distrust among consumers. It's up to brands and agency partners to navigate this landscape in a truthful and transparent way, through both marketing strategies and business decisions rooted in corporate social responsibility. Only then, as an industry, can we take steps forward to foster and rekindle the sense of trust that has been lost.

Julia Smaldone
Julia Smaldone is senior strategist at The Media Kitchen.

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