Forget chasing the zeitgeist, says Ian Truscott. Have faith in your product. Trust your product. And figure out who your story is going to help – and how.   

Prince once sang, “You can be the president, I’d rather be the pope.”

We know what he meant. Political leaders don’t exactly capture the hearts of their followers like religious leaders do. The rise to power of a politician lacks the purer vision of the representative of a deity. Or to put it more bluntly, many voters believe they’re all lying bastards.

If you’ve been around marketing and advertising for a while, you might be familiar with the phrase “lying bastard” – that this is the definition of the job. My own wife believes I sit around all day, and I quote, “making shit up” (which I think I might get embossed on my business card).

The latest scandals around Facebook data don’t help the cause. OK, so most of the spotlight is on political influence right now, but, let’s face it, this industry does have a reputation that sits more on the president’s end of the Lying Bastard Scale than the pope’s.

But, that’s not why I choose the pope.

It seems that to be president, you just need to be popular. Tune in to the zeitgeist of the majority and say that thing.

Of course, this is a handy trait for a marketer: follow the zeitgeist, using research and data to make our messaging relevant. ‘News jack’ and maybe pull off our own stunning Oreo moment. But zeitgeist is not enough. That won’t create trust in your product or service, it just gives you the opportunity to tell your story.

To follow the pope, you need to have faith and trust in a story that’s really hard to prove, in a competitive marketplace for something that’s quite a big-ticket item (our souls). There’s no data that shows that 99% of good Catholics go to heaven – all the pope has is a great story and a network of people to help him tell it.

That’s the essence of great content marketing, to create a story that engenders trust, that helps people to such an extent that they’ll tell your story too. The pope’s story has a 2,000-year head start on us. How do we do that?

“That’s the essence of great content marketing, to create a story that engenders trust, that helps people to such an extent that they’ll tell your story too. ”

Marketing (in my opinion) is about creating ART – Awareness, Revenue and Trust.

This trust starts with you. You need to have faith in what you’re doing, to tell a story that in your heart you feel to be true. That nine out of ten cats really do prefer your brand of cat food. If you don’t believe it who else will?

It needs to be a story that resonates not just with you, but with your boss, with people in your business, your background as an organisation and your culture. These people are your first ambassadors, your first sharers. The story has to include them.

It also has to be believable, that the brand promise made in your story can be delivered on. If your story is saying you can deliver your product the same day, you best make sure you can.

Perhaps (unlike the pope) you have the data that will support your story, clients that’ll say “hallelujah” at the mention of your name, or a spectacular spreadsheet that shows an ROI within minutes – proof that your story will make our lives better.

Finally, of course, the story has to be about them and not you.

President John F Kennedy famously requested of Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That ain’t going to fly with the modern consumer, who doesn’t give a crap about you or your product. They care about their problem, need or desire. The story that organised religion tells predominantly appeals to a very personal need for faith. Figure out who your story will help and how it’ll help them. Why would they care?

My grandmother always told me to avoid the subjects of religion and politics in polite conversation, and I’ve treated the subtlety of your relationship with whatever faith you may have rather roughly, but…

You can be the president, I’d rather be the pope.

Got that Prince song looping around in your head now? Check it out (and other great motivating marketing music) on our playlist.

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