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Are you ready for the age of honesty?

Establishing trust and sharing knowledge is the next step for brands, without it they will lose out, says Jon Silk, director at Bite 

Every time I speak at an event, people come over to me and say the same thing: “I really enjoyed your honesty,” or “thanks for being so honest”. It always strikes me as a bit odd. What else would I do, standing in front of a room of people that know the same, if not more, about marketing than me? Lie? 

Apparently my behaviour is surprising.

The same happened again this week, and it got me thinking. Someone else had mentioned, in their presentation, that the most important thing in modern marketing is ‘authenticity’. Then, someone else got
up and told us that the most important quality today’s companies should exhibit is ‘transparency’.

So, to recap: modern marketing needs to be honest, authentic, and transparent. Hmm, this doesn’t sound good for what things were like in the past, does it?

Marketing of the past
I always remember that sketch by the late, great comedian Bill Hicks, where he throws out everyone in the audience who works in marketing or advertising. He’s not actually joking either – he really didn’t like us. I first watched that sketch back before my career in marketing had started. My dad had been a big-brand marketing director for years. It made my wonder what he did every day that was so wrong. Based on the new rules for modern marketing, what he did back then must’ve been dishonest, fake, and deliberately confusing. 

When you look at some of the marketing campaigns of the 80s and even the 90s, they are full of overblown promises and highly-contrived scenarios. The messages themselves are rarely personalised or timely. In the case of email and direct mail in particular, brands had mind-bogglingly difficult ways to opt-out of them.

Back then, campaigns were a nuisance. They got in the way of your TV programmes. They poured mounds of junk and spam through your letterbox and into your inbox. No offence, Dad, but things needed to change.

Social revolution
And so, after a while, the general public wised up. The social media revolution let people share more ideas and stories than ever before. Organisations couldn’t hide things from us, and if they did they’d get caught out quickly. The power shifted towards the consumer, who demanded more from their interaction with brands. They wanted to be entertained. They wanted free stuff. They wanted a relationship.

Now, think about a relationship built on lies and confusion. It just won’t work. Which is why honesty is so important. But where will things go next? If modern marketing must be honest, authentic and transparent, what is the next big shift?

A union
If I was a betting man, I’d suggest the next step would be towards sharing knowledge. Think about a relationship in the terms I’ve laid out. First, you need to establish that you’re trustworthy. Then, you share things. As a result, both parties should benefit.

The explosion in user-generated content and, most recently, co-branded content are the first signs of this. People and brands are becoming one thing. They are fusing in a way that adds value to both sides.

The next time I speak at an event, I’m going to see who has already gone down this path. Anyone that hasn’t, I’ll immediately throw out. 

Hey, I’m just being honest.