Indeed, our public discourse is showing symptoms of critical overload, reflecting an overwhelming lack of trust in and respect for the central institutions of our society. We haven’t trusted our government since the Watergate scandal broke four decades ago and it’s gotten worse with each passing election cycle. Now, post-Iraq and Benghazi, we are left with a presidential choice between a known liar and an orange-headed clown.
And the actions of our police officers—who represent the front lines of government—are questioned so frequently, so deeply (and too often violently, when they’re on the job) that they now must wear body cameras at all times. And even then, we question the accuracy of the footage we see. And worse still, many Americans see a black man in a hoodie and think “thug,” not “child of God, worthy of my understanding.”
Instead of looking at American entrepreneurs as job providers and economic engines that lead to prosperity for all, many of us protest their greed and insist on income equality. We no longer trust even the best educational institutions to deliver quality results, unbiased content or fair discipline to children and families. Health care providers are suspected of ordering tests and prescribing drugs people don’t need, all in the name of money. And even the holiest of institutions, the church, hasn’t proven infallible, as sex abuse scandals, “hate speech” and terror have sullied our houses of worship.
Sports figures. Hollywood. The news media. Social and charitable organizations. All are under the microscope of a 24-hour news cycle and none are exempt from attack. Our society does a good job of shaming, and everyone is suspect.
Here at Resch, we’ve been observing these changes with an eye toward our clients. How can we position people and organizations for success in an atmosphere that questions all, anticipates failure, and forgives nothing. How can we craft messages that people will trust not just what’s being said, but the people saying it?
And, in doing so, how can we help make our state and nation better? We help shape public discourse, and we’re profoundly interested in ensuring we do so justly. We want to model the type of messaging that’s thoughtful and works to promote positive action, not shame.
We’ve developed three proven rules that deliver results and help foster more productive media conversations. I think of it as “Golden Rule” marketing, and I’ve seen it work for Resch clients time and again. And best of all, these strategies can work to bolster a more healthy dialogue during times of social change—in other words, we can all benefit from adopting these ways of communicating with each other.
1. Be authentic. What you say should match what you do and what your employees and customers know about you. If the talk doesn’t match the walk, immediate suspicions are raised and credibility is eroded. Don’t talk trash, just be yourself, be honest, and do your best.
Consider McDonald’s, for instance. They don’t pretend to be a high-end eatery. They don’t hide from their nutritional content (or lack thereof). In fact, they put the ingredients of their burgers and fries up there for everyone to see. But no matter which McDonald’s you enter, from New York to Nebraska, you’re going to have the same menu, the same vibe, the same user experience. It’s no coincidence that it’s one of the most trusted brands worldwide.
Contrast the McDonald’s experience to that of the U.S. Veterans Administration. Despite public messages about how much the VA cared for veterans, service was shoddy and inconsistent across the country. The experience didn’t match the message, and no amount of PR could avert the crisis.
2. Tell your truth clearly and simply, in everyday language. Part of the reason for the Trump phenomenon is the candidate’s use of plain English that everyone can understand. He doesn’t talk about “enhanced employer verification requirements” or “innovative pathways to citizenship.” He talks about building a wall. Keeping people out until we can check on ‘em. He talks to everyday people in everyday terms, and it feels refreshing to millions who are tired of political doublespeak.
This is tricky for most of our clients. As the #NeverTrump faction in our office has just reminded me, Trump is “not bound by truth, fact or substance,” so it’s easy for him to be clear. He’s not saying anything he’ll ever have to back up, and our clients are. They have substantive messages they need to communicate.
But here, the lesson is still the same. Even the most complex stories can be told simply, using everyday language. People respond to words they understand. Don’t get fancy, use jargon, or rely on buzzwords if you want your organization to be trusted. It’s not always easy, but it is always possible.
3. Focus on others’ needs, not your own. At the end of the day, it’s not about you and your organization. It’s about what you’re doing for your customers, clients, and/or taxpayers. Brands like Apple, Nike and Disney are all about creating a user experience that is unique and positive.
If you’re telling people what a great organization you are, you’re not delivering a user experience. You’re talking about yourself, and that gets you nowhere when it comes to convincing the public you’re a trustworthy, valuable partner. And, for those of us who think about communicating in our personal or professional lives, we should remember to put ourselves in the shoes of those whose minds we seek to change. We need to always be mindful of other perspectives and ideas.
We live in a society that’s conditioned to be distrustful, even angry, and with good reason. When our public figures—from Bill Clinton to Bill Cosby—turn out to be less than we expected, it’s easy to become jaded. But it doesn’t have to stay this way, not if each of us works to live up to our words. Our simple, authentic words that tell the truth and focus on meeting the needs of others.
It’s time to change public discourse in the U.S. and restore hope to a weary nation. Let’s make it happen, one organization—and one conversation—at a time.