Technology has emerged as the one of the most profound cultural drivers in the world today, influencing how we work, live, and play. The combination of smartphone, social network, and mobile internet is increasingly how we all connect with our culture—from news gathering to sharing experiences to entertainment to productivity.
Traditional gatekeepers of information and content in general have been disintermediated, one by one, as empowered individuals connect with creators. Perhaps it’s overdue, but the institutions that were once above reproach—from the media to the government, from academia to industry—have been caught lying to us one too many times. We worry about how safe our personal data is, from our finances and health right down to our wearables. We are in a continuous internal battle between sharing and privacy—and between believing what we’re told and dismissing it outright
But with this decline and fall of gatekeepers and the rise of the connected individual, there has been one notable casualty: trust.
As business leaders, how do we connect with our customers and end users (and even our own team members) who are increasingly jaded? You do it with “rawness.”
The shift to raw and unscripted communication is the antidote to the collapse of trust, not just for your customers and end users but for your co-workers and team members, as well. Acknowledging that trust is low and finding ways to push a sense of closure and control back into your audience’s hands is a necessary first step.
Rawness means dropping the heavy production value, the need to hide behind press releases and PowerPoint slides and teleprompters, and simply speaking in an unscripted way directly to your audience.
Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere broke the mold in how a C-suite leader communicated with his customers. Legere described the moment this permanent shift to raw seized him while he was on stage being interviewed at the 2013 CES Show.
He was asked what was on his mind. And, he told Ad Age in March 2018 interview, it was then that the dam broke. “There was an event where it started to come together. [During a Q&A] the audience wanted to know what was on my mind [and] it hit a chord. From then on, I started to be the brand.” Legere went off script, unburdening himself of all the frustration he felt about how backwards his industry was and how he was going to break all the rules he could. The audience loved it. And he never looked back.
Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian has faced several challenges in his tenure, most notably the 2016 fire and power outage that brought down the airline’s IT systems across the country. Not hiding behind his PR team, he appeared on video via Twitter to introduce himself and to provide a partial, but timely update on the crisis and how his company was working around the clock to help stranded customers. He followed this up with additional updates, never hiding and being as raw and unscripted as possible.
Rob Sharenow, president of programming for A+E Networks, has produced not just Live PD—the first truly live-streamed show on police work across the country and until its recent hiatus its highest viewed show—but also Live Rescue, the same concept showing the public the reality of first responders across the nation. In Sharenow’s example, he has literally shifted the entertainment industry itself and the viewer’s expectations into a newer, raw setting. We see a side of real life that not many of us see on a daily basis, allowing us to try on a different persona without scripts, cuts, or editing.
These examples give us a lot to think about. Here are a few observations on the benefits of communicating off-the-cuff.
Unscripted means authentic
When you communicate in an unscripted and immediate way, the rawness of the presentation is impossible to miss. Live-streaming events, for example, where we are speaking openly and honestly, and without a net to catch us if we fall, carries more impact than preproduced content, because we know intuitively that it’s simply harder to hide the truth when we’re “live.”
In this age of collapsing trust, we intuitively know that “official” presentations and executive statements flanked by a PR team are often putting the best possible spin on an embarrassing situation. Going live immediately suggests the presenter is in the moment, conveying the immediate status of a situation—not an agenda.
Unscripted means vulnerable
Shifting towards a more unscripted, raw communication style means that many who have spent their careers behind a wall of PR managers will now have to face the cameras without them. To be certain, this is a cultural change. Find ways to lean into this new style in as culturally compatible a way as possible. Vulnerability doesn’t mean surrender, failure, or incompetence. As famed screenwriting teacher Robert McKee was fond of saying, “The board has heard every lie imaginable.” Telling your board, or any audience, how you thought you had all the answers, how you were wrong, and then had to strive to overcome obstacles and other monsters along the way, is your version of the “hero’s journey.” Embrace this highly personal process.
Unscripted connects us
By showing your audience the reality without interjecting your opinion builds trust. Find ways to show the data, possible through a livestream of what’s really happening. Create events where you can take your customers behind the scenes and see how things are designed, how decisions are made, and how they can feel like genuine insiders.
Stephen Denny is a managing director of Denny + Leinberger Strategy, a boutique consultancy which focuses on spotting trends that drive business performance and giving clients the tools and insights to act on them so they can achieve real-world financial results.
Adapted from UNFILTERED MARKETING: 5 Rules to Win Back Trust, Credibility, and Customers in a Digitally Distracted World (Career Press, November 2020) by Stephen Denny and Paul Leinberger.