Communicating in the post-truth era

The importance of trust in building and maintaining relationships is nothing new – nor is the accelerated decline in public levels of trust in business, institutions and government we’ve seen during the past decade.

What is new is the ushering in of the ‘post-truth’ era and the new challenges this presents for brands and the communicators who represent them.

This is explored in depth by researcher and strategist Sean Pillot de Chenecey in his latest work – The Post-Truth Business: How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World.

The post-truth era

Pillot de Chenecey points to the proliferation of democratised communication channels as a key driver for an increase in information as millions of voices contribute their two cents – and their versions of truth.

Often siloed in echo chambers of like-minded opinions – and with access to multiple sources of information (not all of them reputable) to support their established beliefs – the ‘truth’ is now murkier, and more elusive.

Equally, sophisticated actors are learning how to manipulate content sources and obfuscate information to present us with fake news or ‘alternative facts’ – devaluing the notion of truth itself.

In the words of Pillot de Chenecey, “trust has been catastrophically devalued and organised misinformation is a growth business.”

Consumers don’t know who or which sources they can trust when “so much of modern life is defined by mistrust.”

What it means for brands and consumers

Pillot de Chenecey describes a world where we have more information but less meaning, more content but less authenticity, greater brand choice but less genuine connection.

Armed with smart devices, we can now probe and research products and brands against our increasingly stringent selection criteria.

What’s their backstory, what are their values (and do they align with mine); how do they implement and measure social responsibility, what’s their position on important social issues; do they operate ethical and sustainable supply chains?

Patagonia clothing is cited as a best practice example of a brand that achieves authenticity through its ethical approach to business, environmental credentials, transparency and workplace culture.

For the “conscious consumers” researching such businesses, this means crosschecking multiple content sources – from social media feeds to annual reports, peer reviews to product comparison websites – in search of that ‘truth’ and connection they seek.

For those brands seeking to earn consumers’ trust, Pillot de Chenecey believes they must go beyond communications and mount a whole of organisation response – they must walk the talk as an authentic business that deserves to be trusted.

A business manifesto for the new age

While the journey will be unique for each business, Pillot de Chenecey shares a five-point manifesto to establish and maintain trust in a world increasingly defined by mistrust.

  1. Be authentic: From your brand story to the claims you make – be true to you and engage with “informed consumers.”
  2. Be transparent: Be truthful and substantive in the claims you make, and the manner in which you communicate them to your publics.
  3. Respect privacy: Capture, retain and use consumer data securely, responsibly and with integrity.
  4. Demonstrate empathy: Moral and empathetic behaviour needs to be substantiated (e.g. publishing a social mission, taking a public stance on an issue) to develop social and reputational capital with consumers.
  5. Be trustworthy: Focus on the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of what your business does. More importantly, follow through on this consistently and prove yourself worthy of consumers’ trust.

The challenges of the post-truth era will continue as we grapple with the issues of trust and authenticity – as will the opportunities for those willing to acknowledge and respond to them head on. For those that do, Pillot de Chenecey sees a bright future.

By Jamie Garantziotis