Marketing’s Truth Problem

Marketing’s Truth Problem is about truth’s seductive tyranny and the five things you can do not to be fooled or become a fool. Marketing “truth” is the most dangerous illusion for digital marketers. The Truth is peyote sure to create seductive dreams so real you bet the farm. Truth makes many marketers end up buying the farm to stretch the analogy.

Young and stupid I knew there was A TRUTH, a truth I understood even though others may not. As experience and years piled in the car truth as hitchhiker changed me. The more I worked on the beautiful, fluid and almost sentient machine (the web) the more my young “A Truth” misconception faded.

Truth, I came to understand, is God.

If you see the Buddha kill him, Buddhists teach. Seeing the unseeable is false. Killing a “false truth” keeps you on a righteous path. Seeing God feels the same. We may touch the face of God in moments of grace, but seeing and talking to him manifest in this world now is sure to get you a prescription.

Marketing needs a prescription too. Marketing’s long-standing and much-reinforced peyote is there is A TRUTH and knowing that fact means you win. Years ago I worked for Direct Marketers. Direct Marketers (catalogers) who believed their Recency Frequency and Monetary (RFM) model was so well tuned knowing THE TRUTH was possible.

My print catalog employers saw Buddha on the road, but they didn’t kill him. Instead, they believed in the infallibility of their print-based model. No model is infallible and if you see Buddha on the road kill him because the peyote will wear off and you won’t know where you are or what you did (lol).

Nothing drives the tribe of Type A MARKETERS more crazy than NOT knowing and knowing they don’t know. I read a lot of “game changing” and “game changer” content. Rare to know the journey starts with YOU (marketers). Digital marketing requires we (marketers) give up the misconceptions of youth and embrace a more uncertain NOW.

Here are five tips to help your marketing team embrace, understand and use “a more uncertain NOW.”

  • Tell Stories
  • Become A NOWIST
  • Create VIDEOS
  • Learn Social Media


If there is no single TRUTH how can we or our marketing be authentic? Authenticity isn’t a thing as much as being authentic is a philosophy. Can our marketing be inauthentic today and authentic tomorrow? Not so much.

Like most philosophy authenticity is a journey. We aren’t born authentic. We aren’t born liars. We become who we are over time and thanks to experience, parents, teachers, guides, coaches and role models.

Everyone wants to be more authentic. Wanting to be more authentic doesn’t make it so, but that’s okay. There is no single authentic truth for you, your brands or company. Authenticity is strange.

We become authentic by being true to ourselves, but we must learn from and follow others to form a “self.” As Dylan says, we must “Serve Somebody.” If we are not ONE THING, then authenticity is a moveable feast too.

Our brands may feel and appear authentic to some and inauthentic to others, and that’s okay too.


Stories are intimate expressions of authenticity. Stories, especially when shared with details, create legitimacy. Hard to fabricate stories from thin air. Even Kevin Spacey’s masterful Verbal Kint uses the police bulletin board and objects in the room to spin his story.

Details lifted from coffee mugs and the bulletin board, in the hands of a master storyteller, created the illusion of truth. Your marketing needs to tell authentic stories and details and NOW are the keys. Creation stories (About Us pages) make for good examples.

Creation stories that say these things happen then miss the web’s most important idea – the web always happens NOW. Your company’s history is relevant to how experiences shaped core brand values NOW. We shared a great creation video example from Grado Labs (headphones makers) a few days ago.

Grado’s storytelling is perfect. “Perfect” means Grado’s creation video tells their story by sharing details with a distinctive “Grado” voice, and the subtext is clear – how Grado formed plays a significant role in how they are now and will be in the future. Grado tells a great story.

Stories are how we learn, come to trust and believe. Stories define your “movement’s” boundaries and define your “tribe”. Glad to read Mike O’Toole better summary of the need for brand marketing “Movements” in Today’s Best Brands Aren’t Marketing They Are Creating Movements. We’ve written about Hero Marketing and the need for “movements” since 2014.

Mike does it better, and storytelling is the means to any brand creating a movement.


Joi Ito’s TED Talk contain three minutes of the most important “new marketing” lessons we’ve heard. Go to minute 9 and you will hear the future of maketing:

  • Pull over Push
  • Learning over Education
  • Compass over Maps
  • Plan LESS use your network MORE
  • Learn how to Learn

That last bullet may seem intuitive and simple. In a digital world, marketers must RELEARN what we think we know. The story shared about working for catalogers who were so sure their plans was immutable is an important lesson – nothing is knowable anymore.


If digital marketing is our new church video is the hymnal. We are all videographers now whether we realize it or not. Video is immediate, tells great stories, answers questions and teaches better than ANY OTHER MEDIA (period, full stop). Today you can’t be too rich, too thin or have too many videos.

We suggest video for:

  • Creation Stories to supplement your About Us page
  • Q&A – easier to SHOW rather than TELL
  • How To – subset of Q&A
  • Branded – use videos from manufacturers of products you sell
  • User Generated Content – if you can get videos from customers DO SO
  • Expert Interviews
  • Industry and Product Trends
  • Inner Workings or “Behind the Scenes”
  • Travel – take your brands “on the road” visit partners or conferences

Tactics Skateboard Shop is building their brand on YouTube and their website and in that order. YouTube and video are more important to Tactics than any other marketing. The video is perfect for Tactics since many of their skateboarders use and watch videos of tricks and other skateboards. No wonder Tactics has almost 60,000 YouTube followers.

We would make two video marketing suggestions to Tactics. Don’t ONLY use YouTube for video marketing. We would move product and brand videos to an “owned” property (pages hosted by Bright Cove or someone similar). Leave the hot to trick videos on YouTube, but move the sales over to something owns, so video traffic and “SEO” juice help their website.

YouTube is a widget. When you embed, videos credit goes BACK to YouTube. Video content helps heuristic measures Google cares about more and more such as time on site and pages viewed, so put your most valuable video content INSIDE your website, not YouTube or Vimeo.

Social Media

“It’s hard to sell things on social media,” is an urban myth. As proves, people sell on social media all the time, but there are RULES. PUSH is over. The more you PUSH, the less you will sell and the more brand damage your marketing does.

Education, sharing and giving a shit are all far from over. Many marketers make a common mistake. commercializationMany marketers think tactics ARE marketing and marketing are branding. We’ve written about the difference between marketing and branding so we won’t rehash here, but tactics aren’t marketing.

Marketing speaks to universal questions, questions we never fully answer. Who are we, why are we here, and how should be BE are a few of the “journey” not “answer” questions marketing is about. Those questions are MEANS to a great END – sharing what you and your brands are about with others to create collaboration, support, and growth.

When social media is used to foster “collaboration, support, and growth” it works. Social media marketing can be the glue holding tribes and community together, but you need to know and rarely break social media’s unwritten Rules of the Road including:

  • Listen & Curate more than you PUSH or Create
  • Follow BACK or your brands appear to be snobs
  • Think BROADLY – Business, Segment (example: tech), Industry (example: apps), Planet
  • Share BROADLY – Not just YOUR content and not just YOUR subject

The last bullet in social media’s unwritten “Rules of the Road” summarizes one of the biggest moves from OLD to NEW marketing. Old marketing was all about YOU and YOUR BRANDS. Old marketing achieved trail and made money by pushing ideas into customers brains. Good luck with pushing anything into your customers’ minds today.

New marketing is about finding those who love you, your “brand advocates”, and empowering THEM to tell your brand’s stories to friends. You listen and create ideas, create ideas and look then rinse and repeat. Social media is a “listening tool” creating “social capital” and community. Social capital, as I just discussed with Lee Anne McClymont, is a rare currency.

Social capital, different than money, increases the more you use it. Sure you can over use social capital especially when you try to PUSH things into your social capital bank. The social capital bank is strange because you will make about 25% of the contributions. Most contributions in your “social account” come from others.

If create pianos Google wants your website to be an authority on creating pianos with a minor in music. If you sell houses provide tips on how to sell a house and discuss trends in your market. Your marketing needs to think about and share information about what you are doing AND how what you are doing fits into an industry. Good idea to talk about and curate content from others about how your industry collaborates with and fits into “business as a whole”.

If your arch competitor posts something great and defining you would be a FOOL not to share, comment and drive a “nofollow” link back (possibly). In his book The Icarus Deception Seth Godin shares how a coffee maker in Paris helps people find OTHER great coffee in Paris. Sharing competitor information because you are confident in what you do well is thinking like a “new” digital marketer.

Competitors are valuable teachers too, so include “competitors” in your marketing, thinking and social media shares. Who is a competitor and on what is another “unanswerable” question these days, so riffing them on social media supports you more than your share helps them as Godin noted in Icarus.

Not hard to see why today’s marketing has a truth problem when any image or story can be manipulated and spun. Helping us make that point on our cover image is the artist Mike Johnston. We digitally manipulated Mike’s Truth spaceman from SXSW for the cover. We used Graphic Burger’s free graffiti font too.