Early in my consulting career, while working a project in New Jersey, I drove to Atlantic City for an evening. I met some teammates for dinner, played cards for a few hours and then drove back to my usual hotel near the client site. The next morning I walked into the office and was immediately confronted by one of my project managers – where did you go last night, who was with you, etc. – turns out some guys hadn’t made it back yet, and along with eight others I was now branded a member of the “AC9”. It didn’t matter what exactly was done or not done by each individual, what mattered was the negative narrative for the group. Dealing with communication as much as we did, we should have known better. People don’t always react to the substance of an event. They react to the story with limited basis in reality. Or they react to the reaction.

“For two years now, I have become convinced that certain NBA teams leak trade possibilities just to see how their fans react…Fan crowdsourcing is a thing – there’s no question.” –Bill Simmons

It’s what some marketers refer to as the sizzle versus the steak. It’s the flash, the narrative versus the substance. Our focus on the sizzle is why changing attire can change the entire perception of a person. Or why people focus on how to present a message rather than the message itself. It’s also becoming tiresome (and boring). Here’s to getting better at differentiating between the manufactured and the real.