Recovering from Information Bankruptcy

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Yesterday, I summarized the key takeaways from the 21st annual Edelman Trust Barometer and highlighted the authors’ conclusion that we are in “information bankruptcy.” Endemic distrust in institutions, leaders, and in information itself has led us to this point.

I also suggested that high-quality thought leadership from businesses can help play a role in recovering from this bankruptcy.

I mean more than the production quality (although, yes, it should look good and read well). When I say high quality, I mean traits such as trustworthiness, truthfulness, lack of bias, and reliability.

My hypothesis: one of many factors that have led to information bankruptcy is that we have created a vast deficit in human attention.

Marketers have gotten very good at getting attention, mastering the rules of various media, learning to hack behavior through human psychology. The track record in making good use of that attention is much more dismal.

Thought leadership, at least with the criteria I am using, can help us get back to spending our audiences’ attention wisely.

An endless hall of superficial “look at this” mirrors ends up destroying trust.

By contrast, imagine the potential created by thought leadership that shares meaningful, honest insights. Imagine the impact of thought leadership that leaves audiences richer than they were beforehand.

It’s an entirely different kind of attention economy, not based on extracting attention as a resource but on cultivating it.

Now telescope out beyond B2B marketing and thought leadership. Imagine an entire mindset of marketing and communication focused on a similar goal, creating a virtuous cycle between trust and attention. Imagine that it becomes the expected norm for how institutions communicate with stakeholders.

Stop and think of how different the world would be.

Is this too big a leap? If it is, the only harm done is that thought leadership becomes better at achieving its immediate marketing goals. Communicators become better at getting their messages across. Not a bad result.

If it’s not too big a leap, we can be meaningful contributors to the long, hard process of recovering societal trust. I think that’s possible. And I’m working towards it.