Recently, Oklahoma Humanities hosted an evening of commentary with Carl Bernstein, discussing truth in media and how it affects us as a democracy. Bernstein is well-known as one of the reporters assigned to cover the Watergate break-in at The Washington Post. His deep investigative reporting, along with his colleague Bob Woodward, helped uncover the now well-known illegal activities by the Nixon administration, which ultimately led to the President’s resignation in 1974. The forum also included a presentation from Ted Streuli, Editor and Associate Publisher of The Journal Record, who discussed different forms of “fake news,” and how each form affects trustworthiness of publications in a different way. The major emphasis of Bernstein’s remarks was a push for journalists to always strive for “the best obtainable version of the truth.” The event was in conjunction with the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” initiative, which is administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. This series of programs seeks to deepen public knowledge of the connections between “democracy, the humanities, journalism, and an informed citizenry.”
Although far from identical, content creation for brands is like journalism in many ways. Blog articles, FAQ pages, and press releases are all meant to give information to the public, with the added goal of familiarizing consumers with a company’s product. Like news journalism, brand content can be both factual and misleading, depending on the integrity of the company at its source. While it’s important for brand content to be true, the process of creating these resources does not require investigative deep-dives. Very often, the facts about a product or service are already well known by the marketing team. But if content distributed by a company is going to be the most effective, it must have a similar goal to that of good journalism: the best obtainable version of the answer.
All marketing content should provide the answer to a question being raised by new or existing customers. These questions can range from how to use a product, to why it is better than a competitor’s, to where it can be most easily purchased. In all of these areas, the users who encounter the information will be more engaged if it gives them the best obtainable version of the answer. Why would they engage with your blog article if another brand is giving them something better? It is the responsibility of every business to offer honest, complete answers to any questions consumers are raising about their category of product or service.
But answers can be complex. As Mr. Bernstein stated during the forum, the truth isn’t always a simple string of facts. Context is always needed to provide the reader with a full picture. Finding a balance of concise, to-the-point information, and fully fleshed-out context is difficult. That’s why digital content is so effective, allowing specific pieces of information to be linked to related topics, letting the user decide how much information they want to consume. Care should be taken that this network of brand information is user-friendly and easy to navigate. If a business launches a new product campaign, with multi-channel pieces of content, consumers must also be given a clear path to connecting all of the information.
Mr. Bernstein also spoke about the need for institutional commitment to the truth in journalism. The same goes for brand content, where mixed messages create confusion for potential customers, and in turn, mistrust. Nothing will send a prospective client running for the hills faster than marketing information that is contradictory or seems fake. So it is highly important that brand messages be strictly curated throughout the company, from the executive level, all the way through customer service. If the CEO makes a statement in the newspaper that is at odds with an online video, users in the marketplace will notice and may turn away from your products toward those of a competitor in a split second, without taking any additional time to contact the company for clarification. If your content strategy involves a dedication to the best obtainable version of the answers, consistency won’t be a problem.
Whether a company is working on a blueprint to rebrand, or a campaign to kick off the next quarter, answering the questions of potential new and repeat customers should be the number one goal of any content created. Do the materials show the product in a clear way? How do the words and images create real-life scenarios for customers? Where do individual marketing pieces disagree or contradict, and how can that be resolved? Asking these questions, and finding the best obtainable version of the answer, will lead to higher levels of engagement from digital consumers, and an increase in brand trust.