January 22, 2018
Strategic Management

Post-truth era business development strategies

Chris Coyle

Business development has become more complex because of the collective effects of the post-truth era (PTE), a time in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

The strategies to handle the post-truth era, include redefine, recalibrate, reorient and reinvent. We are now drilling into the first step in navigating effectively in the post-truth era, redefining the focus of initial discussions and using some of the most prolific elements of the PTE to make business communication more impactful.

Today, emotion is more important than ever. Great communicators through the centuries have strived to achieve the optimum use of the three means of persuasion (logos, pathos and ethos). Pathos, meaning the appeal to emotion, may have eclipsed the importance of the other pillars of persuasion.

In our increasingly emotionally oriented culture, this means adjusting our business communications strategies to be more emotionally effective. Just imagine how great you will feel when your use of emotions works.

Statistics or stories?

How often do your business presentations jump right into facts and figures? Where is your emotional connection that your prospect is increasingly programmed to expect? How about personalizing what we are communicating? When one is at the beginning of the sales cycle, capturing attention and building interest is paramount. Emotion is the key.

Early in 2017 many pundits debated the future direction of federal healthcare policies. This highly publicized and charged debate showcased a wide range of communications tactics.

Communications expert Merrie Spaeth offered some interesting commentary about this debate in the Wall Street Journal ("How to Overcome the Tyranny of the Anecdote") that illustrates the power of emotion and storytelling.

Spaeth describes the battle between facts, and "emotionally laden anecdotes" and shares some useful insights into increasing the effectiveness of important communications in today's emotionally centric world.

While facts and numbers may support one sides' healthcare policies, this is no longer enough. While one faction relies on facts, the other uses an emotional story of a family losing their healthcare benefits. We all know this well by now — the emotional appeal usually wins, even if the facts do not support it.

To make business development more effective in the post-truth era, we must include anecdotes and illustrate key advantages with stories that tell a more human story and trigger underlying emotions. When your biggest competitor is non-action — the resistance to consider new ways of doing things — try illustrating and personalizing the potential implications and consequences of not taking action.

Helping your prospects visualize and feel what new outcomes might mean for their business can elevate facts into a more compelling story.

Weaving facts into a story line that includes the future implications and consequences of today's decisions and choices "in real-life terms" helps business professionals redefine and improve the opening discussions.

By contrast, simply increasing the volume of facts and adding more "expert" opinion may not only be counterproductive, but risks appearing out of touch as post-truth-oriented people may perceive you are telling them their opinion is wrong (note the intentional switch from their facts to their opinion).

Others simply have come to expect emotional content and may not react until they feel moved to do so.

Some might counter this logic with the objection that this is simply giving into the post-truth era and joining the increasing chorus of "narrative noise." While it is true that using strategies and tactics that are part of the PTE phenomenon may appear to be a concession, the fact is great communicators through the centuries have always studied the essence of communication's effectiveness.

Today, the unprecedented growth in the scale, scope and impact of communications is changing age-old norms, and the reasons are based in science. Our next article will dig deeper into some of the science and the power of modern communication tools to maximize the impact of messages.

Chris Coyle is managing director of business development services for CBC GROUP. Contact him at ccoyle@cbcgroupwins.com.

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