At our recent Intelligent Content Conference, a colleague from a healthcare company told me about her company’s decision to put every bit of its digital content into a corporate CMS – within the blue and gray template of the existing corporate web site. The consensus was that their company was in the “business of facts.” All they needed was to be “mistake free” and let the “facts speak for themselves.”

That’s a funny thing to me because, in fact, facts almost never speak for themselves.

In the big data era, in which people and computers, together, are scraping information about consumer behavior and creating superhuman, algorithmic, machine-learned answers to some of our most pressing questions, we have more facts than ever. The question is, does anyone care?

In some research done at Wharton a couple of years ago, scientists showed algorithms of various types to people. People found them interesting and valuable until the algorithm made a mistake. As it turns out, once people saw an algorithm make a mistake in one of the experiments, “they were very, very unlikely to use it and didn’t like it anymore,” and they seemed “harder, in a way, on algorithms than they are on people.”

Those findings bode well for tomorrow’s human involvement in the increasingly automated world we find ourselves in as marketers.

But today’s question isn’t about how we rely on the facts; it’s how to make people care about the facts. This isn’t just a marketing question. It’s a fundamental communication question. Increasingly, facts are a commodity. Facts are easy to attain, so we don’t value them. And because we don’t value them, they can be assailed with… well… “alternative facts.”   

So facts alone don’t suffice. As I told my colleague (to quote the classic Poison song), companies have to give people something to believe in. Marketers have to give audiences something to care about.

If we don’t, we risk creating some version of this scene from the TV show, The Simpsons. Lisa is sad because one of her favorite teachers has left. Homer doesn’t get it. “I knew you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “Hey,” says Homer, “just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.” It takes her running from the table, crying and screaming at him that he’s a baboon, before he finally cares enough to console her.

Ultimately, with every piece of content we create, we have to ask, Do we want people to care? If not, then it’s no problem going with the cold corporate template and “letting the facts speak for themselves.” Otherwise – even if it means putting in more effort – we’d better give people more than content they can believe. We’d better give them content they can believe in.

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