That’s a headline that I use in one of my keynotes and workshops. It’s also something I believe. It represents my truth as I see it in the world.
On the cusp of a holiday weekend, where people will celebrate “independence” for any number of reasons, it’s something on my mind.
I see this more and more these days – especially in some of the things we’re dealing with recently outside the bounds of marketing and business. From a horrific tragedy in South Carolina and the ensuing particular view of the motivation, to the meaning of a symbol (a flag) from hundreds of years ago that continues to divide. What’s the truth? Is it the facts from one side? Is it the facts from another side? I see so much in today’s world that supports the idea that facts alone don’t change anyone’s world view, no matter which side of the “truth” you find yourself supporting.
To change a belief, you must persuade the person by appealing to emotion.
So, another headline that I use frequently – and that I used a couple of weeks ago at a conference in London – is this:
We are not in the business of truth.
What I mean by that is as business communicators, we are in the business of appealing to emotion, the business of persuasion. We are not in the business of relaying facts. Therefore, we must use story as our means of that persuasion. We cannot rely solely on facts. We must synthesize facts into creative narratives that convince people to emotionally commit to the approach or idea we are trying to move forward.
For example, I recognize the musician inside of me in Marriott’s The Navigator series. I’m no longer a professional musician, and I know that these videos are heavily edited to create a sense of story. Those are the facts. But those stories feeltrue to me. Or, rather, those stories are true to what I believe myself to be.
And that’s what I mean by “We are not in the business of truth.” We, in marketing, are in the business of creating narrative – and story – and sometimes that means we use emotion and storytelling to synthesize factual information to make it more powerful and persuasive.
In English, the word truth has two meanings that are, interestingly, conveyed by separate words in many languages. On the one hand, truth means “in accord with fact or reality.” On the other hand, it means “fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.” It’s the conflation of these two meanings – “factuality” and “fidelity” – that got me in trouble a couple of weeks ago.
I was at a conference of PR professionals, and a few of the attendees objected to that headline “We are not in the business of truth.” They took it to mean (I guess) that I was calling them (and myself, by association) liars.
But the interesting thing I realized is that I couldn’t debate what they heard. I can only clarify my own truth. They heard their truth. There are simply no number of facts that are going to change what they believed they heard.
No matter what part of business content/communications we come from – technical documentation, content marketing, sales, PR, etc. – the key is that as we develop a voice – a unique and differentiated tone, a distinct point of view, and cohesive strategy – we will inevitably bump up against “the truth.”
Great content that has a distinct point of view inevitably draws dissenting opinions. Those opinions may come from inside the organization – for example, a salesperson who objects to how pointed a message is. Or those opinions may come from a potential customer – someone who disagrees with the message. Or those opinions may come from any of a number of constituencies – from the press, from influencers, from existing customers, etc.
The key is – in every situation – whether it’s a highly charged political discussion or a simple discussion about the future of PR and content in the business, each person has his or her own version of the truth. I have mine, and you have yours. We can agree, and we can disagree. Neither is wrong.
When I say we’re not in the business of truth, I’m not saying we should lie. I’m acknowledging the complicated nature of truth. And I’m acknowledging that facts alone may fail to move people. And that is ultimately the business we are in. We are in the business of moving people.
That’s why I tell stories. I persuade. I’m trying to get you to come to my side. Honestly. Unapologetically.
That’s my story. I’m sticking with it.
Have a wonderful holiday.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.