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The End of Spin as We Know it?

By: Guest | January 24, 2013 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Chuck Kent.

Spin sucks so much author Jonathan Salem Baskin contends it’s an endangered species.

Truth be told, I dissemble as much as the next guy.

Nonetheless, Truth with that capital T has always been my greatest interest, the Grail in my unholy professional life.

I firmly believe nothing creates more convincing marketing messages – or greater long-term shareholder value – than the simple, self-evident truth about a brand.

No wonder, then, that immediately after hearing author Baskin interviewed by Mitch Joel I bought Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool (co-authored by Sue Unerman).

At the end of the book, the authors make this bold prediction: “We believe in five years we’ll look back on the art of spin as an anachronism. The truth is the future of marketing.”

Wow.  I knew I just had to sit down and talk to Baskin about the demise of spin, the problem with brand communications and the prospects for truth in marketing. Here’s a topline of the conversation we had shortly before Christmas, 2012  – you can watch a more complete version on Vimeo (it’s worth it).

End of Spin – Jonathan Baskin excerpt from Creative on Call, Inc. on Vimeo.

KENT: My first question is… why write this book?

BASKIN: [My co-author Sue Unerman and I] had been talking about… why did certain things work and certain things not work – not just in terms of channel or media-specific things, but more broadly. Were there reasons a billboard ad worked underlying why a great social campaign worked? We found our clients or our fellows looking for a lot of these made-up or new metrics for what constituted effective branding or effective marketing. And we wondered if there weren’t some underlying truths about what worked and what didn’t, so we started analyzing it and pretty soon came up with this idea of… truth.

[That idea is] underlying not only every business communication but every personal communication. What we’re striving for when we talk to one another is a shared understanding of truth. Once we took that hypothesis and got to working… it opened our eyes to seeing what businesses and brands do in a different way. [We tried to] come up with the language to talk about it, and talk about it in a business setting, not in an ethics setting alone or exclusively, but really talk about it as a business imperative. Did more truthful brands and businesses also happen to sell more stuff? That’s how we came up with the premise.

KENT: At the very end of the book, you and Sue make, what I consider, a pretty provocative statement:

More and more, marketers are turning away from easily constructed spin and digging deep into the truth of their brands. We believe that in five years we’ll look back on the art of spin as an anachronism. The truth is the future of marketing.

So, do you really expect that spin as we know it will end in five years, and if it does, what does that look like?

BASKIN: There’s probably a little bit of hopefulness written into this because there’s a moral dimension to what we do and believe and there’s a populist dimension to it as well… We hope consumers wake up and demand more, and we see evidence they are across the board, whether it’s five years or seven years or 10 years.

The reality of what that world looks like? Again, I think it’s one of these deals were we’re already in it, we just have to wake up and look around, open our eyes, if you will, and see the kingdom around us, not to get theological about it. The fact any consumer right now can demand better service through Twitter, or through direct contact with the business. The fact businesses have the capacity to talk to consumers directly and immediately and repeatedly, these are all realities, this is all now.

The fact I have a mobile phone today, and I can wait to do my product research until the moment I’m standing at the counter at a retail store and call up a pricing comparison, call up whether or not a nearby store has a better deal, this is all now, this is all happening.

So while big brands are still talking about image and engagement and likeability and clicks and shareability and all these nonsense terms, the reality of how we’re already interacting is far more dependent and reliant on the truth than we are really able to recognize or have the language to describe.

I would argue five or seven or 10 years from now, it’s more of the same. Businesses that have a better, more open and sustainable relationship with their customers on a shared understanding of what they do for a living and what they’re offering, what it’s value is and whether or not it works, are going to be doing better business than those that don’t. It’s already what’s happening today. I would argue that it’s less of a future that will come and more of a present that we will become more aware of, both as brands and as businesses.

{End}

Later in the interview, Baskin relates a great anecdote about his recent experience trying to present this concept at the PRWeek national meeting, comments on the affect of gaming social platforms on truthfulness, and gives some insight into the attitudes of the next generation of marketers, based on his extensive work with college students. I encourage you to at least view the excerpt above, and hopefully take in the more complete interview.

How do you see the true future of spin? What’s your take on the truth in marketing? Powerful tool, pipe dream, or something in between?

Chuck Kent is president and creative director of the branding, communications and content agency Creative on Call, Inc., and the creator of #SocialSong Saturday.  You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.