While it has become rather tiresome and cliché to say that the Internet has changed everything, there are few examples where that statement is more true than in the world of marketing and communications. Old-fashion “spin” is dead. Emails, text messages, cloud computing, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the Internet in general have made the spinmeister obsolete. There are simply too many ways for the truth to come out.
With this in mind, executives and high profile public officials must come to grips with the fact that everything they say through their marketing and communications programs is now subjected to scrutiny like never before. If your sales force or spokesperson makes a statement that teeters on the brink of exaggeration or truth, they will be called on it. Many times, this leads to lost revenue, and damage to reputations and brands. No matter how painful it is to tell the cold hard facts about your product or service, trying to hide behind spin will always end up backfiring. Here’s why:
Pervasive Bandwidth – It use to be that the only way a determined detractor could gather internal research about a company’s products was by convincing someone from the inside to photocopy files, steal recordings, or sneak other items out of the company’s offices. That always took time and was difficult to pull off. Now, because high-speed wireless access to the web is available almost everywhere, broadcasting and emailing internal product evalutions and focus group data to the outside world can be done from almost any mobile device. Forty years ago, the CIA would’ve invested billions in satellites and other clunky gear to provide field agents with that kind of capability. Nowadays, it can be had for a couple hundred dollars a year.
High Quality Recording Devices – This is an extension of the first item. Twelve years ago, I paid somewhere around $600 for a 1.4 megapixel digital camera from Olympus. Generally speaking the pictures were terrible, but the immediacy was fantastic to experience. Today, the camera and video recorder on my iPhone rivals many of the point and shoot cameras on the market. The Android and HTC smart phones have the same capabilities. As such, anyone who wants to grab an embarrassing video or audio recording of an executive or politician can do so and post it to the web in seconds. Short of confiscating phones before a person enters a company’s offices (which many of the firms I work with do), it’s next to impossible to stop this.
The Digitization of All Business Records – This is something of an obvious point to make, but it bears bringing up. Everything your company is, everything your company does, and everything your company intends to do is probably described or otherwise managed by software that produces files. The portability and convenience of the digital age certainly increases productivity, but it also provides thieves and interlopers the ability to steel your secrets at the blink of an eye and use that information against you.
The Media’s Reliance on the Web For Leads – Most reporters spend a significant amount of time researching stories online. Many follow blogs for story ideas. With this much attention being paid to online content – some of it from micro-sites that only get a few hundred page views a day – you have to assume that once your information has been compromised, eventually it will get out.
Human Nature – The final reason for marketing truth ultimately comes down to human nature. While there are a few psychological profiles available that describe the motivations of leakers and whistleblowers, the simple fact is that many people want to feel that they are in control of their situations. These individuals will always seek out opportunities to become someone important. Many are also motivated by a sense of morality, and a belief that their actions are for the greater good. It’s next to impossible to stop someone who thinks it’s a moral imperative to call you or your company out for an apparent breach of trust.
So, in the end, if you are relying on spin rather than functionality to market a product, don’t produce that product. The same rule applies to services. Don’t try to sell something that you have to trick someone into thinking they need. Too many people are watching.