In Keeping With Tradition Or Bucking The Trend: What Does Post-Truth Really Mean?

25/01/2017 13:02

So, 2016 was the year that Oxford Dictionaries declared "Post-Truth" to be its word of the year. I like the way that "post-truth" sounds and for the last few months, I have read and absorbed the phrase from different articles and commentaries with great interest.

As both a fact and a truth, I have come to understand and relate to the term, but recently, one of my colleagues asked me a critical question: 'What does post-truth actually mean?'. This is the type of question I pride myself on asking and, in my opinion, is the bedrock to success for any person or business. However, I blustered my way through the answer (as is my wont) quoted the Oxford Dictionary and described how the term relates to objective facts being less influential in shaping opinion than emotion or personal belief.

When I stopped to take stock of the term post-truth (and give it some proper consideration), this phenomenon that shaped 2016 and the monumental outcomes from the last year, I found myself asking, is this really something new? Is post-truth not a trend that has always existed in the business environment? Surely all that happened in 2016 was the overt exposure of the human race choosing emotional intelligence over rationale decision-making.

I look back to 2007 when John Lewis launched their Christmas advertising campaign, and now in some people's eyes this monumental force kicks off Christmas every year. Here, a business tapped into the emotional human response to Christmas and understood there was a brilliant business opportunity to be intrinsically linked to this. Another good example occurred in 2012 Starbucks UK announced their initiative to write people's names on their cups. We universally related to this concept, feeling Starbucks were delivering us a more personal service. I ask then, are not both of these, examples of post-truth? The service that is being delivered is secondary to the emotional response provoked within us.

In 2009 Kickstarter was launched, one of the original, first wave, and most successful crowd sourcing marketplace. This was a platform for raising money which was solely based around 'post-truth' financial drivers. People would 'invest' in companies with no tangible returns and only potential repayment in terms of a reward for a pledge. Here, is an industry where people are investing their own money based on emotion and personal belief rather than any rationale investment analysis. The investment is based solely on an emotional feel good factor. This is the complete antithesis of the foundations of the finance industry.

A couple of years after reward crowdfunding became common place in the market, we saw the evolution to equity crowdfunding. This trend saw the traditional methods of raising funds to start (or grow) a business challenged by a new financial sector of funding, where individuals would buy equity into a business. While these pitches for equity crowdfunding provided all the standard financial, legal and commercial tools to evaluate a business in traditional sense, I feel decisions and investments were made primarily on 'post-truth' feelings. Crowdfunding challenged (and continues to challenge) the establishment by making investments available to all, at all different monetary levels. This process ultimately feeds into the entrepreneurial landscape by offering rewards and discounts to appeal to the emotional side of the individual.

But, why am I interested in this and why, when my colleague posed the question in the first place, did it cause me to re-think? Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that what became coined as 'post-truth' in the political turmoil of 2016 is actually the key factor that underpins the success of any business: emotional trust.

The aim of any company is to build trust with their customers. We aim to achieve this through our ability to develop relationships with customers, by getting to know them and delivering them a level of service, which exceeds their expectations.

Having written this piece and reflecting on this post-truth world, I would say that the critical difference between post-truth and trust is that there is an appreciation that a loss of trust will result in a potential break down of the relationship between the parties involved. Post-truth, up to this point, has proven to be fairly resilient to any failure of delivery on initial promises or expectations. 2017 and beyond will reveal whether this principle maintains a foundation of this post-truth world, or if we move back to the traditional model of trust relationships.