By Bailey Foster

"How can we as marketers effectively and ethically leverage digital tools to cultivate conscientious marketing content?"

It’s a digital world, and we’re just living in it. As a marketing team at a creative agency, though, the dominance of digital technology transcends our personal, consumer-based experiences and seeps into countless nooks and crannies of our professional lives.

Since entering #AgencyLife, I’ve witnessed an ongoing and ever-growing dilemma that’s prevalent in both the B2B and consumer marketing spaces. And it all comes down to this question: How can we as marketers effectively and ethically leverage digital tools to cultivate conscientious marketing content?

All Marketers are Liars

We’re in a time when consumer trust is low, social media apprehension is high, and ad targeting is the target (pun intended) of increasing scrutiny.

Seth Godin captures the driving sentiment behind these trends in his poignantly titled book, All Marketers Are Liars. But interestingly, the premise of his book isn’t to shame and slam marketers for being manipulative. Instead, it’s to equip them with the mindset and tools they need to become truthful, authentic (and effective) storytellers.

In the first pages of his book (read the Preface here), Godin lays the groundwork for honest storytelling with three simple questions. And I believe it’s these questions that can guide us as marketers or marketing managers toward genuine communication rather than manipulation.

Question 1: “What is your story?”

To tell an authentic story to your audience, you better first know the ins and outs of it yourself. Knowing your story includes having a firm grasp on:

  • Why you do what you do (and why it matters).

  • The corporate and personal values that support your bigger “why.”

  • The guidelines you’ll use to uphold those values through your every marketing move. (And if you’re one of those against-the-man types who cringe at the idea of limitations, know that rules can actually be gateway to creativity and freedom. Just look at Chuck Jones’s Road Runner rules or Larry David’s “no hugging and no learning” Seinfeld philosophy.) 

Question 2: “Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?”

Let’s be clear. Want to hear and need to hear are two different things. In Godin’s words: “When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you’ll be tempted to tell stories that just don’t hold up. Lies. Deceptions.”

"Our jobs as ethical marketers shoudn't be about cunningly crafting messages just because we think people will want to hear them."

Our jobs as ethical marketers shouldn’t be about cunningly crafting messages just because we think people will want to hear them. If we’re truly empathizing with our audience and keeping their best interests in mind, our job should sometimes be about challenging them to make a change, showing value in unexpected ways, and building connections to meaningful solutions.

Question 3: “Is it true?”

Whether it’s strategizing a targeted digital ad campaign, driving engagement on Instagram, or boosting SEO, truth should be the driving impetus behind your every initiative and effort. If your story isn’t true for your customers, how does it help them? And if it doesn’t help them, where does that leave you?

Truthful marketing helps your audience make better, more informed choices in whatever journey they’re on. And in the end, that means better, more profitable business for you.

True Stories are Impactful Stories

I’m not naïve. I know that deceptive marketing practices will sometimes prevail and that digital technology will continue to pose ethical challenges for marketers and for people in general. But in my own role within the creative agency world, I’ve seen and experienced the value of conscientious marketing across the digital space and beyond. And it encourages me that I’m not here to just to spin a good story. I’m here to tell true stories about real brands that matter. 

"All marketers are storytellers. Only the losers are liars."

So regardless of platform or channel, digital trends or trajectories, find your story and tell it truthfully. Because in the words of Seth Godin, “All marketers are storytellers. Only the losers are liars.”