As part of my research on the year ahead, I embarked on a series, 20.17 Big Ideas for 2017, to ask a number of my favorite award-winning marketing experts, authors, and other thought leaders -- as well as some of Firebrand Group's own digital strategy and branding experts -- to recommend one "big idea" that companies can take advantage of to get ahead in 2017.
One of the individuals I was fortunate enough to interview for this series was Heather Taylor, director of creative strategy for The Economist, who recommended that established brands and startups alike pay attention to groundtruthing.
Haven't heard of the term? Groundtruthing "refers to information provided by direct observation as opposed to information provided by inference," says Taylor. "There is a growing distrust in large-scale information like satellite images, large data sets, and, more recently, polling. Theoretical information, large data sets, or elements like satellite footage feel intangible, which makes them difficult for people to comprehend and so are easily dismissed."
Taylor feels that by having a real human being closer to the change itself, the more relevant it will feel to our daily lives. To do this, we must cover events and issues from the frontlines to get to "unfiltered truths."
"Truth is the big thing right now," she says. "How do we get to the truth rather than fall for the spread of misinformation? We're going to continue to look for more of that in the upcoming year, especially after the recent U.S. election and Britain's vote to leave the E.U."
Here's more of our conversation:
How does groundtruthing play into the evolution of mainstream media?
Citizen journalism will continue to be valuable and will be more important than what is deemed as "mainstream media." Although insight-driven publications like The Economist have had growing circulation numbers during these uncertain times, there is a growing distrust of the 24-hour media outlets who are seen to value eyeballs and clickthroughs versus real reporting and real journalism. To combat this, more individuals are covering major events themselves. There are filmmakers covering the Dakota Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, we get live feeds from the middle of Black Lives Matter marches, individuals are taking to social media to give their unfiltered perspective of what's happening in Aleppo. In a lot of cases, this is seen as a way to ensure we are getting the truth of the moment versus a watered down, edited, or skewed version of it.
Because of this movement, live streaming video, especially on social channels like Facebook, will continue to grow in importance. Because it's unedited and accessible, it gains greater trust from the audience watching as it not only feels true but it puts viewers in the center of the action.
Major outlets have been using UGC content for a number of years now -- but more and more, we're seeing consumers go directly to the source to see the full story rather than the edited version some mainstream media will co-opt and share. It's important to have access to these first person accounts so the deeper and factual analysis that follows from more insight driven sources will resonate in a deeper way.
How can groundtruthing be considered when developing content? How does this factor into the future?
This is going to have greater impact on businesses as we look at how we create content. Shill pieces aren't going to cut through the noise and consumers will gravitate toward fact versus opinion. The big question will be how we get to the core of what the issues are and be open enough to allow people to see behind the curtain. Without truth, there is no trust. Without trust, we will lose traction with the target audiences we want to reach.
Newer technologies like VR, when used to its greatest power, will help get viewers into places that are inaccessible, and in doing so, will allow them to get a first-person account of the subject at hand. It's hard to grasp what a percentage of a population means when looking at larger issues. Being able to have a first-person account or by interacting with the world from your own perspective, you'll find the truth that's harder to obtain when you're focused only on big picture thinking and not also living the truths of the situation first hand.
As we look to the future, we have to reconsider how we are telling stories -- especially for brands and companies that aren't considering their purpose or are willing to be transparent. Consumers will look for more truth and purpose to companies and the content that's representing them, and will be much wiser to what they are being fed across social platforms, on TV, and from the media outlets they access the most.
Will the role of influencers change or become part of the groundtruthing movement?
What we define or think of influencers as will change. Individuals with access will become more influential rather than being a often self-proclaimed expert. You don't need millions of followers to be considered influential in this case. You need to be able to share your experience in a way that no one else can capture. It's not about having a large audience but being able to tap into arenas that aren't easy to access.
Looking for more Big Ideas for 2017? Grab the entire ebook here. And here's wishing your company plenty of success in embracing the groundtruthing movement in the year ahead and beyond.