A Truth Well Told …How Man’s search for meaning relates to Marketing

My grandmother once said that much truth is said in jest.

There is something about laughter that causes us to be less defensive about hearing a subjective assessment of ourselves. Since Elizabethan times, when the only person who was able to tell the King the truth was a fool, we see that comedy or tragi-comedy is used to deliver truth in a palatable way. But, what is truth?

Truth is a manifold concept

To a scientist, truth is a universal principle like gravity. It is measurable, it is inescapable and it can be proven. To a poet, truth is an illumination of the soul, that enables them to conjure words to describe what is often dismissed as mundane in a memorable way. To a man of faith, truth is a sword that can break chains, hence the scripture says: “you shall know the truth and the truth that you know shall set you free”. To a soldier, truth is a cause that inspires one to pick up arms in defence of an ideal.

Is truth absolute?

The real question of interest here is not whether truth is absolute or not, but rather why do we as human beings have a NEED for that question to be answered.

I believe that the human spirit is on a quest for meaning and this quest finds solace in certainty. Certainty anchors our souls, it gives us pillars to hold on to in the face of a world that is constantly changing. It is this quest for meaning that causes us to experience the world along three planes:

  1. There is what is happening to us – The Instance
  2. There is what we tell ourselves regarding what is happening to us – The Narrative
  3. There is what we believe others believe regarding what is happening to us – The Discourse

From a marketing point of view, we manage brands that are able to deliver a measure of defined value for the customers: washing powder washes clothes, cold drink quenches thirst, soccer boots enable online casino us to play sport and so forth. This I would liken to the Brand Instance.

In the mind of the customer though, their association with the brand does not only end with what the brand can do in a definitive way, it also extends to what they believe about themselves which is then affirmed by buying and using that brand. This is the Brand Narrative. For instance, assume there are two smokers, one who smokes a slim, long cigarette with a filter tip and an expensive sounding name. The other smokes a short, filterless type named after an animal. Notwithstanding the health hazards associated with each (filter or no filter) and the health warnings stamped on each cigarette pack, each smoker inherently believes different things about themselves and each other, which causes them to make the choices they make regarding the brands they associate with. The former might be a fashion conscious woman who conveys an aura of sophistication and affluence. The latter is a man who wants to convey an appetite for rugged adventure and “I couldn”t care less” attitude.

The reason why this is important is that the Brand Discourse is the sum total of the individual Narratives of both Customers and Non-Customers regarding one’s brand. Being a non-smoker I am likely to have quite judgmental opinions about my smoking friends, but what is the truth amongst them?

So, therefore in my view, marketing, branding and advertising is the process of finding the truth behind the narratives that consumers have regarding their lives, which constitutes an examination of not only their spend patterns, but their world views, their aspirations, their fears, their history, their culture, their disappointments. It is once we understand this truth that we can begin to create tailored messages that massage the brand narrative and therefore gradually shape the brand discourse. 

In order to do this process justice, we must let go of our desire for truth to be absolute and rather look at truth as a guide.

We have to learn to cease to see the world in binary terms; there is more to the world than Black and White, there are beautiful shades of Grey (“,) …pun intended

We have to learn to understand that human beings have the capacity to hold contradicting thoughts, therefore we have to be comfortable with articulating ambiguity.

The process of articulating truth, starts by examining the lens through which one looks at the world. Therefore, we have to have the moral courage and intellectual honesty to examine even the things that are accepted to be gospel truth, because changing contexts can challenge the validity of accepted truths.

For instance, it is scientifically accepted that at sea level water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. This is a scientific truth. However, at higher altitudes such as atop a mountain peak, water boils at lower temperatures due to the pressure levels being different. This then means that our understanding of water boiling should not be limited to merely accepting 100 degrees Celsius, because a change in context changes the boiling point.

This is a simple illustration of how a simple truth can be used as useful insight to improve a brand.

Conclusion

Often the truth about ourselves is something that we inherently know (or knew) but had no language of vocabulary to describe. But there are also situations when we discover a truth that causes a light-bulb moment in our heads because it goes beyond our current understanding of the world.

In the movie the Matrix Revolutions, the Oracle says to Neo:

“We cannot get past the choices we do not understand…”

So, a truth well told is a well-articulated explanation of our deepest longings that helps us to understand our motives and by extension our choices.

It is only by understanding our motives that we can change our behaviour and thus make better decisions in the future.


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