Misinformation spreads like wildfire on social media, and their parent companies have little interest in fact-checking. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said in an interview about political speech, “I don’t think that Facebook or internet platforms, in general, should be arbiters of truth.”
New generative AI engines such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and others respond to queries for which they may have no answer or repeat inaccurate “facts” that have gone unchecked for months or years.
As content marketing’s popularity has grown, the media created by businesses have blurred the line between persuasive selling, where facts may be stretched, and evidence-focused research and journalism, where marketers oversee fact-based features meant to sway opinions.
The facts get fuzzy.
Fuzzy facts transform the audience’s truth
A 2021 University of Pennsylvania study found when someone relaying information believes they are more knowledgeable than the recipient, they are more compelled to guide the information’s meaning in a persuasive manner.
Put simply: Everybody becomes an armchair expert who uses facts to shape their truths.
Even AI tools fall into the “armchair expert” category. I asked ChatGPT, “Who created the jobs-to-be-done theory?” It confidently answered, “The Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) theory was developed by Clayton M. Christensen, a renowned professor at Harvard Business School, along with his colleagues Scott D. Anthony, Erik A. Roth, and others.”
That is incorrect, but not without veracity.
The answer continued to shape its “truth” with facts: “Christensen is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts in the field of disruptive innovation and is the author of the influential book The Innovator’s Dilemma, which introduced many key concepts related to innovation and business strategy …”
A Google search using the same question relays a “more correct” fact. It identifies Tony Ulwick, founder of the innovation consulting firm Strategyn, as the inventor of the jobs-to-be-done framework and the theory’s origin from his patented process, Outcome Driven Innovation.
Content’s increasing democratization has propelled so quickly that differentiating between facts (the things that happened) and truths (the things we believe happened) is hard. In the coming months, that problem will only compound.
That means, as marketers, you must evolve your company’s approach to content.
Siloed facts won’t cut it
Recently, I worked with an organization in health care, an industry rife with misinformation across the internet. The company wanted to put all its content into a facts-only FAQ. The brand thought it was in the “business of facts,” so all it needed to do was publish mistake-free content and let the facts speak for themselves.
But facts rarely speak for themselves.
In this digital media driven era, more “facts” exist than ever. As humans and machines retell them across many interfaces, the facts change. That is inevitable. You cannot stop it.
Can you see the Great Wall of China from space? No. It has never been a “fact,” but China’s schoolchildren learned it as a truth in their textbooks for years. Only as recent as 2004, after China’s first astronaut debunked it that publishers removed the information from textbooks.
Today, facts alone won’t suffice. To quote the classic Poison song, you must give people something to believe in.
Architect a point of view
How do you give your audience something to care about?
In the past few months, I’ve worked more with brands exploring their approach to two important questions related to facts and truth:
- How can the company become more trusted as a thought leader when so much distrust about content exists?
- How will the company’s point of view become the best answer across traditional and AI-driven search?
Though you can’t provide the full answer to the AI-driven search question yet, you can use consistency and scale to purport a more widely accepted common belief and become a trusted source that delivers the best answer.
To take that thought leadership, you should set up what I call point-of-view (POV) architecture, an expansion of the messaging architecture concept. It allows everyone from marketing and sales to the C-suite across all regions of the world to echo the same substantive point of view.
And the more consistent your point of view, the better it can scale across platforms. Then, you’re more likely to establish your brand’s point of view as the “right answer.” More importantly, you consistently scale the reasons people should care about this point of view for marketing and branding purposes.
Let’s break down the anatomy of this POV message architecture.
The brand promise acts as the foundation for every point of view. Every narrative you create should align with it. From there, your orientations follow. They define where your point(s) of view will live – the campaigns, themes, and initiatives for your industry, cross-industry, and company.
Then, you get to the heart of the POV architecture. Your unique point of view is your brand’s truth, the belief that you want to scale. Your key premise represents the non-negotiable story of your view of the world – what the organization believes. It is your answer to an overall question.
This truth won’t necessarily be different than what the rest of the world believes. What should be unique are the reasons the audience cares and how your brand supports it.
For example, CMI’s truth is that marketing is not just an expense but a truly profitable business function. It’s not terribly a new or provocative truth, but our arguments (or facts) to evangelize that belief often are.
With the brand promise, orientations, and unique point of view set, the point of view can be developed in detail. Define the primary promise – the main benefit received by someone who believes in your truth. You may have more than one promise, but don’t detail more than a few.
Then, you transform the facts into primary and secondary messages. You use these evidentiary-based arguments consistently and scale them to present a cohesive point of view to support your truth. The primary messages are used globally – on every channel and in every content type. The secondary messages are used in contexts – based on geographies, personas, etc.
Finally, you have the standards and definitions around the point of view. You define concepts and proprietary ideas and provide guidance on visual language.
You can take all the attributes of your newly constructed point of view to create what I call a “not-so-brief brief.” It spells out how your brand speaks to the facts that make up your point of view to the world. From this, you can create briefs for individual content pieces or campaigns that speak to the point of view.
Ultimately, for every piece of content you create, ask, “Do you want people to care?” If you don’t, then go with the belief that the facts will speak for themselves.
But if you want people to care, speak your facts to create their truths. You will give people more than content they can believe. You will give them content they can believe in.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute