July 21-22, 2021 / Online

Communicating in an Era of Self-Validating Facts

Written by Communicating in an Era of Self-Validating Facts

August 4, 2017


In 1961, The Twilight Zone premiered an episode called "The Mirror". And in it, there was a group of revolutionaries in a Central American dictatorship who were gaining power, and finally were able to overthrow this cruel dictator. And in one of the final scenes before they eventually seized power, Ramos Clemente, the lead revolutionary, he confronts the dictator and they kind of grapple about this, and then finally, the dictator says, "Okay, fine, you win, "but also, you're now getting this magic mirror that I've owned for a long time."

And Clemente kind of scoffs, this whole idea of this silly magic mirror, and the dictator explains that he's always relied on it because it shows him the actions of his enemies before they actually occur, and he's always been able to kind of look to it for that kind of guidance.

Clemente scoffs at this and he says, you know, "This can't do anything for me, "but whatever, get out of here, now I'm control."

And he assumes power, and at first things are going pretty well, but then surprise, surprise, he starts using the same very oppressive tactics and techniques that the previous dictator had used. And over time, he grows to really distrust the people with whom he assumed power, and he starts thinking that some of his buddies there are going to be working against him, the same way he worked against the old boss that was in charge. And he starts questioning them, and they deny that they're going to do anything, they deny that they're going to contribute to his downfall, but one by one, he has them each arrested, questioned further, and then taken out. Until eventually, it's only him that's left in power, him and this magic mirror.

And toward one of the final scenes in the episode, we see that he's standing in front of it, and he looks in the mirror, and he only sees himself. And he picks up a gun, and aims it at the mirror. And then quickly, the camera cuts to just outside of his room, where a priest happens to be walking by. And he hears the gun go off, he breaks down the door and he rushes in. And he sees there's Clemente, not just with a broken mirror in front of him, but he's also dead of a gunshot wound. He saw what he wanted to see.

And we have to ask now, 50 years on, what has changed?

Some of us kind of look to the media as our magic mirror, to reflect what we see in ourselves, and we say, "Well maybe that's kind of the bed that we've made." But now 50 years after that episode, we should ask if that's an accurate reflection in front of us, or simply that maybe we're seeing not just what we want to see, but what we already believe. And in any given set of users in any particular audience with whom you work, that's what always happens, people bring to the table their own preconceived notions, and their own beliefs. And most studies show that it's those internal beliefs that are far more powerful at swaying their opinions and allowing them to take in new information, they're far more powerful than any sort of external data that we might try to represent, or we might try to offer them in service of the brands that we represent.

So let's dig into that further, I know a lot of people are fond of the phrase of saying, "Now we live in this post-fact era," and it always makes me pause and say when were we actually in the fact era? Because I mean, I don't know about you, but the things that I hold to be true, I hold to be really, really true. Those feelings have always trumped facts.

And the thing is, as humans, we share a lot of similar feelings, we like to gird ourselves in information and surround ourselves with beliefs and maybe information sources that make us feel good, and like we've made good decisions about the places from which we get our news, and the brands that we like to support, and the places where we invest our money, and I'm using that term "invest" loosely, because I mean like, the products that we buy, and the brand of coffee that we like. And in this post-fact era, there is a lot that kind of holds us back.

We cannot take action on information, on things like climate change, if we refuse to let that information and let new science come in and motivate our beliefs, and motivate our actions. Furthermore, we can't always take action on issues in public safety, when again, we're kind of mired in problems that like only 40 percent of Americans in a recent study said that they have a "great deal of confidence" in science.

Now the story there is not that the number is not higher, because it hasn't dropped. Over the past 30 years, it's actually stayed at about 40 percent. The story though, is that even though now we're more exposed to a wide variety of information sources, we can results of different research going on at different universities, high quality research that produces high-quality information, even though we're exposed to that, the story is that number has not gone up, and we should ask why, we should ask what our responsibility and response to that should be.

Now in this post-fact era, we know that we've been playing fast and loose with things like revisionist history and errors, and omissions of the truth.

Rudy Giuliani was famously once-described by Joe Biden as, "A man that could make sentence out of a noun, a verb, and 9/11." God bless him. I think his, for those of whom in the room that are, those of us that are writers and editors, you know, that's some impressive semantic work going on there. But yet, he went on to say just in the past year, that we've never really had to worry about terrorist issues, before Obama came along. That's a kind of big mental leap he's making there.

And when we talk about mental leaps and revisionist history, we look back to the most recent invasion in Iraq, all right. 2003, Trump was all for it, he was saying, "It looks like it looks great "from a military standpoint, it's great financially, "people are really getting behind this, "it's great for our country, it's gonna be "a tremendous success." And then last summer as he said, well, he was an opponent to it from the very very beginning. So definitely some revisionist history going on there.

And maybe we've come to accept this. I don't know if we've always come to expect it from our leaders, but maybe we've sadly come to accept it.

The thing is, in his audience of supporters, these inconsistencies, this deceit, these lies, they did not change his public perception. When he was losing against Clinton in most polls, he didn't start losing more when these issues of mistruth and deceit came out. You you can see, those ratios, that distance that kind of remained the same over time. The big uptick was simply the bump that he got from the convention. So if those inconsistencies don't affect public perception, if the people that were his supporters continued to be his supporters even when they were presented with new information, there's opportunity for us to dig in there and say, "What is going on," and also, "What can we do with that information?" Other people are definitely noticing what's going on. Last summer, across the pond during all the debate around Brexit, Aaron Banks, the lead funder of the leave campaign, he commented at one point well, "Facts don't work, you have to instead connect with people emotionally, that's the Trump way." that might be sad, that might be a sign of our times, but maybe it's always been a sign of the times, it's our emotions and our feelings and our existing beliefs that motivate behavior.

So how do we always want to feel? Well, we're girding ourselves in information and feeling confident in our beliefs, well, we wanna feel safe, and smart, like we have made good choices with the places where we get our information, and what we believe about the world around us. And these different aspects of our goals and our belief systems, they are common across audiences, and across people. So if that's the case, if people are motivated more by their feelings than by their facts, let's work with them on those feelings.

We always say we wanna start where our users are, start with where your audience is and build from there. Well, it turns out our audiences, they comprise humans, and humans are a sea of swirling emotions. So if we want to know what people already believe, if we wanna know what they value, we have to look at what they trust. It used to be that we would place our trust, find our heroes in the halls of government, and that didn't always work out so well. We know what happened with Richard Nixon.

Slightly more recently, for anybody here that's maybe in like the over 30 age group, also happened with Gary Hart. In both of these cases, those heroes in government were brought down by heroes in the newsroom. More recently still, we had Appalachian Trail enthusiast Governor Mark Sanford, also caught in a bit of a web of lies, by some really smart and savvy journalists. And then we should ask, should we just look for our heroes among journalists and in the newsrooms? Because they haven't been the most savory and honest and trustworthy places, either.

And yeah, maybe we can blame right-wing media for coaching us to question the truth, and to not always look to the same sort of arbiters of truth and papers of record. There are definitely issues there, but if we take away our faith from government, if we take away our faith from the fourth estate, from media and journalists and newsrooms, well where do we look then, for the truth, where do we find our heroes? I think those heroes, that sense of truth and purpose, starts to come more from within.

I'm a big fan of Ray Bradbury's, a part of me is cheering this outcome because I think his words are so relevant. In Fahrenheit 451, he wrote, "Don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, "machine, or library, but do your own bit of saving "and if you die," metaphorically or not, "At least know what if you drown, that you were "at least swimming for shore." So do your own work, look inward for the truth. So we already know that we are mired in these feelings and emotions, that sometimes sway us more than any external data or reality, and we know that people look inward for that confirmation of reality to say, "Is what I am seeing to be true because "I hold it true internally?"

As professional communicators, as marketers and designers and content strategists and creative directors, that's kind of new terrain for us. But in many ways, we've always said, "Well, we need to reach people emotionally, before we can meet them educationally," This is our opportunity then, to zero in on that and really focus and shine there. Because when people take in new information, yeah, they're saying, "What I'm learning about this "particular candidate or politician or brand, "is this right for me, does this align with my existing viewpoint?" And they might go back and forth, especially if they're taking into account information about new brands, asking do I feel good about it, and also does this brand make me feel good about myself? We've seen it in how different photography campaigns have changed the face of different clothing brands, we've seen how information is reflected more about ourselves and about our lifestyles and in brands and campaigns that are touting the benefits of different coffeemakers, we see it in those very mundane quotidian experiences, but also in bigger, more accountable issues as well. So when people are looking at problems in consistency and inconsistency, when we saw Trump racking up different lies that we know to be mistruths, either because we heard different versions years ago, or we heard different versions between July Trump versus May Trump, when we're looking at issues of consistency, it isn't so much in the consistency that we see out in the world, but rather, how that compares to the consistency that we already hold to be true inside.

We are not better than Ramos Clemente, looking in that mirror and saying, "Well, is this "what I'm seeing in front of me, does it reflect "what's out there in the world, or what I already believe?"

So when we're working on issues of trust in that brand that we serve, whether you're inside an institution as an in-house creative, or you work with a range of clients, maybe through a consulting agency relationship, we're always in that effort to build trust, so that people can put their faith in the politicians and the products, and the services that we offer, and the ideas that we espouse. Once they trust those ideas and brands, then they can buy in, literally or figuratively, then they can offer their support and share it with their friends, as well. And that issue around consistency, that has some interesting science behind it.

Over the past several years, I've looked at how in a lot of organizations, in how in a lot of consumer situations, something really interesting is happening in the divergence between the brick and mortar world and what we see online.

Many of us know that if you're shopping in a store and you're trying to decide if maybe you want to buy a particular pair of pants, you might flip through the racks, see what else is offered, maybe the shopkeeper will come over, a sales associate will come over and say, "Hey, those look really great, maybe if you pair them with this shirt," and they're basically inviting you to spend more time there, going through that purchase decisions. And early on in the days of the web, we said, "No, let's abandon that thinking that "has worked for so long, and instead, "hustle people through that shopping experience. "After they put the product in their shopping cart, "stop merchandising to them, don't market in the "shopping cart, we wanna get them out there "as quickly as possible." It went against everything we had already learned from literally centuries in the shopkeeping experience.

But now we know that the more time we give people to kind of contemplate a purchase, make sure is that the right size for them, maybe read some reviews on it, see how that product looks from different angles, the more time they spend with it, the better, because they go through that cycle of deliberation and validation, of saying, is this right for me, is this right for my interests, will this meet all of my goals, and the more times they look at it, the more time they spend with it, the better it feels.

And going through the cycle, it isn't simply looking at the reviews from other customers just like them. Those things are great, they help support their buying decisions.

But really, it's every time they check in with their own beliefs, every time they tap into that gut sensibility of saying, "Is this still "right for me?" That's where they're building up that evidence, that's where they're building up more courage in their convictions, to say, yeah, I do still believe that this is the shirt that will define my future, and this is the one couch in the world for me. It's that idea that what feels right, far and away trumps what is accurate. The external data that we present is never as powerful as the internal truths that people already hold dear. So we should ask, is this simply about confirmation bias?

Many of us that work in the worlds of user research and other kinds of data collection are already really familiar with confirmation bias, and we know to look out for it, that idea that the things that the things that we already believe will allow us to kind of take in or not take in other information, we see what we want to see. And especially now that live in an age where, in many cases, we are not longer living in cities that have multiple papers or multiple papers of record, where many of those journalists are now unemployed, when we've removed other sources of information, we have to ask, where are we getting it, then? And most importantly, how do we start to shift people's beliefs, if those beliefs are far more important and far more motivating than any sort of customer testimonials or video interviews, or other content types that we might be able to offer to say, "Hey, we've got some perfectly valid information and trustworthy science we can present about our brand, you should listen to us," they were already busy saying, "No, no, no, no, no, I got it, I'm listening to myself." As it turns out, it isn't so much just about confirmation bias, and it's important for us to realize the differences there, so that we can focus on what will really matter and actually change how we work.

Jamelle Bouir, a columnist for Slate, this year at a panel at South by Southwest, they were talking about some of these issues, and he said well, "The way we adopt new information, the way we adopt facts, it's based on our identities."

How we see ourselves, what we believe to be true about ourselves. So if you're say, someone that always recycles, and you live a strict vegan diet for environmental reasons, you will believe other information about your impact on the environment, because it fits with your world view of who you are. And the same holds true if you see yourself as a hunter, as a gun owner, as a parent who's going to just do whatever is best for your kids, not based so much on what science says, but what you believe will be best for your kids. So how we form those beliefs, that matters far more than what we already believe.

How we fit new ideas into our perceptions of ourselves, that's really the thing that we can target, and that's not so much about confirmation bias, that's more a cultural predisposition. And it's important to know the difference there again, so we can focus on addressing those needs, meeting people where they already are, and really kind of getting into how we can wrangle with their feelings, tap into their feelings with our facts and the things that we know to be true. And I think for all those reasons, if we can identify the problem, if we can talk about the problem, then we can start to work on the problem.

In fact, if we just look at cases where science sometimes butts personal belief and cultural disposition around issues with vaccines, where we know as professional communicators, sometimes we have to get out information to audiences because their lives may depend on it. Maybe either their personal health and safety, or broader herd immunity within their communities, that might be vital information that our employment might depend on that success, but their lives depend on that success.

Sometimes of course, we're communicating far more basic stuff, like the hours of a coffee shop, which also, somebody's life might depend on knowing when they can get coffee. but recent studies have shown, vaccination rates actually go up not when people are presented with more facts and more science about say, the safety of vaccines, or why their kids should be vaccinated on a certain schedule. People that are opposed to that, or have more questions about it don't make the decision then, to get on board with vaccinating their kids simply when they read more about it. Instead, they do it when they have maybe a quiet conversation with a physician a pediatrician that they already trust. So if they've already built up a relationship with that pediatrician, and that pediatrician has been coached professionally, to say, always revisit this topic, keep bringing it up, that's ofttimes the engagement and the tone of voice and the type of content that can help move minds and change minds.

So I want to address by giving you three things that you can work on, three things really that you can bring home and start doing differently next week. And I wanna just put the caveat out there that I'm approaching this not as a journalist, because I'm not, I'm not reporting on these issues that I've seen in the media. I'm not a media analyst, I'm not looking at at what the media should be doing, and looking at trends in the media. I'm coming at this as a brand and content strategist, I'm a consultant, just like many of you. And in that capacity, I see the issues that my clients are challenged by, and most of them are not in politics, they're retailers, they're in a wide variety of other industries. And they still face that issue of communicating why they should be trusted, why they should deserve the attention and the time and space of different audiences that maybe could look to other resources for information as well. So this is what I've found works best, taking these three approaches.

So first, around earning attention through novelty. We need to take a step back. We've gotten really good at curating content from other sources, and that's all fine and good because there's a lot of places you can get a lot of the same information, but what's really valuable to many audiences is being able to read something new, discover something new from the brands that they come back to, time and time again.

Now, I love the example that RealClear Politics presents, because they talk about how they've cultivated the kind of content they present. Now, this is one of those brands that is more or less respected on both sides of the aisle, to take a quote from John Lovitt there. And they describe themselves as being a trusted non-partisan convenor of content-rich media.

I love that they're a convenor, they're bringing together the conversation. They're bringing it together, they're nonpartisan, and they're pulling together both new content that they're commissioning, insightful and impartial reporting and analysis. They're bringing that together with information that they are thoughtfully curating from other sources as well, so you can gain new insight by the kind of conversations and the disparate information that they're bringing together and catalyzing there. They describe it as continuing to invest in shoe leather reporting, and again, as so many media outlets have continued to either close or be combined, this is all a really vital and almost disappearing kind of tactic.

They also go on to say though that they supplement it with in-depth exploration of the campaigns, the candidates, and voting trends by senior political analysts there, and by doing that, they're bringing together again, new content with information that already exists to say, "Let's dig into this more, let's continue "to research this, let's put this new information "and existing information under our microscope to say, "should we even pay attention to it?"

Now this is an example from the world of politics, but it's not different than websites that say, "Well, this is what our competitors have "represented, we're going to conduct our same tests, "maybe on this particular car seat, "or on this particular blender, or on random objects "around the house, and say, 'will it blend'?" We can all be taking that approach with our content, to say, "Well okay, my audience may be "slightly different than your audience, "but let me still see if this information "holds true to them, let me conduct my own tests "and offer my own perspective on it."

Beyond RealClear Politics, we can also look to other sources, like even Buzzfeed. Now on many of their articles, if you scroll all the way down to the bottom, you'll see a little box there that says, "outside your bubble", where they're curating content, perspectives from across social media, and they may be perspectives that don't align, certainly, with the Buzzfeed ethos and their kind of editorial perspective, but so that in that same place, where you've just read an article, you can see what people are saying, that maybe are not like you, because they get their information from other places, their filter bubble may not be your filter bubble, but you should still know what's going on in their bubble.

I don't think I've said "bubble" that many times in a row, one of those words that you're like...

But by doing that, they're bringing the conversation back to their site, back to their page, and saying to their readers, "Hey, these ideas may not be your ideas, "but expose yourself to them, and hear what "they're saying, so that you can weigh and "evaluate them, and make new meaning from "that broader conversation." there's also opportunity to trojan horse onto opposition that may be out there, so in other words, if people have feelings about different topics that that maybe don't align with what you believe to be an external reality, there's an opportunity to still meet those people where they are, and say, "Okay, well let's bring in then, "a brand that you trust, a voice from the other side "that you trust, let's bring that person, "that brand, into our house, onto our platforms, "onto our stage, and have a respectful conversation. "Maybe not a talking head, squawking head "kind of debate, but something that is more respectful."

Now, we can see again, how this plays out in journalism, in media, in politics. Jon Stewart was known for doing this so respectfully, and with humor and humility, and so artfully. This, here we can see Bill O'Reilly. To hear from another Bill, Bill Kristol from the Weekly Standard, a conservative voice, he was telling a colleague on time who had been invited on Jon Stewart, "You know, don't worry about it, you're gonna be pleasantly surprised, because you're not going to be there to be trashed or to be bashed, but Jon doesn't take cheap shots, he's smart." And we're smart, we can rise above cheap shots, again, whether we're talking politics or blenders, or couches, or insurance, there's a lot of room for that conversation there.

Now this definitely takes work, it takes time. And if you're in a UX team of one, if you represent a smaller brand, or just a much smaller budget, that's okay, it can be tough, but I think that's where we have to address trade offs, to say, "Maybe we don't continue to invest so much time "and budget and effort and creativity in just "hunting down what everyone else has said, "but take some of that and reallocate it to "running our tests, offering our own perspectives, "and commentary on existing research." Again, sometimes we have to be creative in reallocating those budgets, but I think that this is something that we can all address, regardless of industry, and regardless of budget and team size. Sometimes in order to make those tough choices to save more for our brands, we have to learn to say no.

A brand that I tend to look to and to trust a lot is Cook's Illustrated, and I say that as someone that rarely cooks, but I just love their publishing. And they have a feature in their magazines every month in the very back page, where they'll do different product reviews. And oftentimes, they'll revisit their own old content and say, "Well, let's run another test on this," so they are not so entrenched in their own beliefs, to believe that one time, years ago, they found the world's best knife sharpener, and can never be improved upon again. Instead, they say, "Well, let's revisit this, "because we now have new information, new products have come out." In this case they were like, "Yes, we're gonna still stick with this one particular one that we recommend, the Chef's Choice, it's sharp, it's fast, it's fabulous, or as much as a knife sharpener can be, I guess, again, not a chef, just a reader. I should say a reader and an eater, so yeah. In this case though, they said, "Yes, we still have courage in our convictions." We've gone through that same process that all of us go through, that all of you go through, "of revisiting it, saying is this still right for me?" They're bringing new science into it, they're bringing new perspectives and new tests into it, but we can all do that with our content, even if you manage simply, your own brand. Think about the times you've published maybe, strongly-held beliefs on a blog post. Well maybe now it's time to go back and revisit it, to say, "Back in 2010, this is what "I believed, now with new information, "I wanna put those ideas under the microscope, "bring them into the lab of my own experience again, "and offer a new perspective on it."

Big brands do this really well with comparison tools. Brands like Volkswagen do it with comparison tools that reach out beyond just their own product lineup. So again, they're bringing information into their own house, onto their own platform, saying, "Hey, customers, potential customers that we'd like to meet, you're here already, we don't want you going off to competitor's sites", but let's bring in information, let's bring in the opposing viewpoints, so that you can make "a better decision for yourself. So compare the car that you're interested in against other similar cars, or even going to go so far as to say here's some that we'd recommend, based on the things that you said were important, maybe around fuel economy, and mileage, and the quality of the interior, the suspension, et cetera, we're going to make some different recommendations, or you can fill in the fields, go through this little tool, bring in the other car models that you're looking at, and see how they line up, we're going to run the data for you, we're going to present that information, not in a way that is skewed, because we want you to make good decisions with the information that you get. Make the decision that's right for you. So, let's bring in that information, present it to you in an unbiased way.

I mean, the color scheme here, it's blue and gray, it's inoffensive, it worked as well now as it did back in the Civil War. And here you can see, they're letting you just make the decision that is right for you, because they're appealing to you with information they're bringing in to tap into the feelings that you already have, so that you can go through that process for yourself, not with external reviews, you can get those as well, not with reviews from people just like you, again, you can find them out there. But here, they're having the conversation just be between you and yourself, with the things that you already hold to be true, they're bringing in their own information, and information from other competitors into that, they're kind of Trojan horsing on it to let you have that quiet conversation that is more of an internal monologue, that allows you to again go through that cycle of revisiting what you hold to be true, and comparing it with new information to say, "Yep, I sill believe this."

Now again, this takes work. And especially when we talk about that, that deluge of information out there, when we saw that only 40 percent of Americans still hold certain beliefs about science, still place their trust and faith in science, and that number has not grown, even though we have more access to information, more access to more content than ever before. Maybe with all of that content, we put up those filter bubbles to say, It's too much, just give me a smaller subset that I'm going to define for myself, so as long as people are finding those subsets, maybe we can also claim a little bit more responsibility to help them with that effort, to go through the process of curating content, of not just simply giving them really really long pages that are a huge, ginormous features and benefits list, but instead saying, Here are the top 10 that are most relevant, or, Based on the user profile that you've already completed, here are the top five features that will be most relevant to you.

It's kind of what Volkswagen is doing there, saying, Well, tell us what interests you in a vehicle, and we're not going to tell you, Go look at every car in the world, but rather, Here are the five that most align with your goals and the things that you said were most important to you, here are the five that most align with your values.

So they're working with their audiences, they're saying, "Okay, let us take on some of that labor, for editing the world for you, for curating it down to what is most relevant.

Yunghi Kim in American Photo, wrote about this issue with online photo galleries, that now we have such unprecedented access to information and so much information, so much content, we see it play out oftentimes in photo galleries, that there there are a hundred shots of the same pride event, or a hundred shots of the same parade, that no one has take the time to curate and say, "Well no, here are the five or 10 that best tell the story." If we want you to be motivated and moved by these photos or this content, maybe we should be taking on that work then, of saying, "Focus your attention here, 'cause you only have so much."

Another way that we can address this is by encouraging people to bring their own insight to the table, rather than just saying, "No, here is what you should believe, "here is what you need to learn from this." Again, this is kind of like that Volkswagen model, where they're saying, "Go through this exercise "to learn more about what will be the right "thing for you, whether it's the right car, "the right product, the right belief system, "the right political candidate." I Side With was one of the platforms that offered people the opportunity to do this in the last US election cycle, of saying, "All right, maybe you are more open minded and "more undecided, and here, here's a way to find "out what candidate is offering policy ideas "and perspectives that best align with your values. "We're not gonna tell you who to support, "we're gonna tell you how to arrive at a decision "on who to support, on what brand to support." Other brand do this in more traditional, social media ecosystems, by joining the conversation and offering perspectives, but more or less just convening an opportunity to share those perspectives.

Last year, State Farm hosted a Twitter chat that they initially built out by working with a lot of parent bloggers that have children that are starting to look at college, starting the process of saving for college, which, as you can imagine, it's a pretty wide variety of ages there. First they reached out to them and said, "Let's begin these conversations on your own "blogs, not in a way that says, 'Hey, "the best way to save for college is by partnering "with State Farm, but rather, State Farm is sponsoring "this discussion, because we think it's important "for people to start talking about it, "start thinking about it, if you haven't yet, "regardless of the age of your kids, "and if you're looking back at your own student loans, "regardless of your age, let's start talking about "how payment works in this country." And in that process, they then brought it into Twitter to say, "All right, let's all get together at this date and time, have this shared chat," and the folks that were representatives of State Farm, they weren't there to say, "First question is this, "or actually this is the real answer you're looking for," there wasn't a lot of "well actually," explaining going on. Instead, they were there to maybe offer additional insights to say, "Hey, you might also wanna check out this other bit of information," but they were not the loudest voices in the room, they did not offer the most information, they didn't tweet the most. Instead, they were there to listen. As Stevie was saying, it's in that listening that we can hear more about people's needs and we know this, as professional communicators, we know this as user researchers. But it's so easy, sometimes, to forget, and to replace the perspectives out in front of us with our own perspectives.

Penzey's is doing a beautiful job of this, of convening conversations right now. Again, it's another cooking example, coming from somebody that really does not cook, but, I can still appreciate a brand when I see it. So Penzey's is a, they're a spice company based in the Midwest, originally from around Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, I believe, and they've got a number of outlets. They recently opened up a new store in Janesville, Wisconsin. Janesville, in case you're unfamiliar, is also the place that gave us not just a wonderful spice store, but also Paul Ryan. And they went right to the place where they felt their conversations needed to happen.

Now, they sell spices. But what they also sell is discussion around how spice and seasoning has fit into global diaspora, immigration, trade routes. When we're talking about things like different types of cinnamon, what are we talking about, like the countries from which we've always gotten that cinnamon. When we talk about different types of pepper, again, we can't talk about that without talking about the Middle East. We might not talk about the Middle East, but we are always using terms from it, and terms that we may only ever hear in the news when we bomb someplace. So they've always said, "Let's talk about food, "because we get people together, we build community "around food, around shared meals." And over the past couple of years, they have taken a really bold position on Facebook and in social media, and across their website, of saying, "Bad things are happening at the national level and at the international level in government, people aren't listening to each other, we're not always acting in empathy, we're not always embracing our neighbor and supporting their needs for civil liberties or for healthcare, we're not always behaving in a warm and responsible and neighborly fashion. So, let's have meals with our neighbors, let's bring together our families with whom we may not always speak, let's bring them together around the dinner table and talk more about passion and compassion and helping each other, because food, it's about feeding ourselves and our own needs, but it's also about building community with our different tribes."

One of their most recent promotions on July 6th was the anniversary of when Trump had first said some really horrible things about Mexico and Mexicans, and what they've done to the US, and they bring across the border. Penzey's took that opportunity to say, "This is an important anniversary, and we should not ignore it, but it's an opportunity for us to start saying, 'I'm sorry, that was rude, and Mexico gives us a lot of good stuff,' and because we're a spice company, Mexico gives us a really wonderful vanilla extract."

So they're keeping it in the sort of realm and on the sort of topics on which they can best comment, it was an opportunity for them to say, "Come into our store on this day, get a free bottle of vanilla." It was the biggest promotion that they had ever run, if you hit their stores by, I think around midday, they were all out of vanilla, they were issuing rain checks and telling people, "Come back another day," and on those days, they also, I think their sales records for that day were more than 16 times what they had sold the previous year's July 6th. So people were coming in, supporting them, even when they couldn't get their free bottle of vanilla anymore.

So there is an opportunity there, whether you're a spice company, whether you represent a car company, whether you represent a really small brand with a blog to say, let's revisit this, let's create new content, let's put our own perspectives under the microscope, so that we can help people better align our information with their existing values, 'cause that's the way into them, that's the way into their hearts, and through their hearts into their heads.

One of the shows that I grew up watching, I think it was on six or six-thirty, Sunday evenings, very very popular with my parents, was Siskel and Ebert. And that was an opportunity to hear different held perspectives, very strongly-held perspectives from two people about such a simple, kind of innocuous topic about a night at the movies. And in bringing together different perspectives, they cultivated a very respectful, warm, empathetic debate.

Now, sometimes that debate was peppered with phrases like, "I can't believe you sat there and saw the same movie I did, and that's what you have to say?" There was some shrieking that went along with that, I think from both sides of the screen. But by and large, they were bringing together different ideas to tap into the worldviews that people saw reflected on the screen and reflected in their own lives, to say, here's why these films matter, here's why you should spend at the time, your 4.95, maybe, to go see them. That really hasn't translated well over time. But by bringing together those different perspectives, they created this very respectful, open forum to say, these ideas are worth discussion, and we can still appreciate each other at the end of the day.

Throughout their professional career, I don't think they always appreciated each other at the end of the day, but they definitely had their highs and lows in those relationships. In creating those different perspectives, Siskel and Ebert did so much to say, all right, let's appeal not just to what we know, but to what our audience values, to what we hold true about the world, based on all of the beliefs and all of the baggage that we're already bringing to the table, that cultural predisposition. That's what allows us to take in new information and fit it into our existing beliefs, not lots and lots of new data, but how that data is delivered, with empathy and understanding that we achieve through listening to our audiences, because those values, that's what's already out there, that's what our audience sees, that's what our users see when they look back in the mirror.

Thank you very much.

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