For Brands, Trust and Truth are the Most Important Games in Town

Trust Handshake

The issue of leadership is an absolutely crucial one when brands are built on trust.

Today’s post is by Sean Pillot de Chenecey, author of The Post-Truth Business (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

The issue of leadership is an absolutely crucial one when brands are built on trust.

This is because, in a post-truth world, businesses of all descriptions have a serious problem: a weakening of the vital trust connection between brands and consumers is causing enormous problems for businesses.

The ramifications for brands in sectors of all description are deeply serious, especially when ‘reputation capital’ is of such immense importance, regarding our belief in those core questions of ‘is a business honest, competent and reliable?’ Because if a brand isn’t trustworthy, it’ll be rejected in favor of one that is.

Because just running an advertising campaign stating that a brand is trustworthy isn’t good enough. This isn’t a marketing issue, this is a business-wide issue, involving every facet of the organization, hence leadership being so important.

Companies have to be consistent in their behavior, from top to bottom, and right along the supply chain, from the ‘first hand of production to the final hand of the consumer’. But a problem that’s becoming ever more visible is that some organizations have made authenticity their marketing strategy, rather than a business one. As a result, they come across as manufactured, the very opposite of authentic.

And this genuinely has to go all the way. Make no mistake, organizations and brands that want to earn and keep our trust have to ‘live it like they say it’. Because business has to be about more than just profit. ‘People plus Planet’ and to quote a much-derided word ‘Purpose’ have to be in there too.

The ‘actual’ difference between ethical brands with a moral code and those exposed as being without one, is increasingly a key factor in consumer brand adoption or rejection. This approach very much links to social innovation and indeed conspicuous altruism.

‘Social Purpose’ is a phrase used obsessively by modern, forward-thinking leaders, and links directly to joint value creation, where both shareholders and society benefit from business. Yet many still attempt to portray, or indeed dismiss, the demographic most associated with this ideal as being one where, as The Guardian newspaper put it “the idea that market activity should have a purpose other than purely profit is roughly where it always was on the spectrum, somewhere between Marx and Jesus – one for the rioters, the subversives, the people with beards, unsuited to mainstream discourse.”

To illustrate that this thinking goes right to the top of hard-headed business thinking, in their ‘Reflections from Davos’ report regarding the 2018 meeting of the World Economic Forum, the managing partner of McKinsey was quoted as saying “the next innovation imperative will be social innovation – business’s role will be critical here.” The report went on to note “society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose”.

This is set against research from those such as Deloitte, who show how millennials are fast losing faith in business; and against a backdrop where people are scrambling to find solid ground in an era when we’re told that the very notion of truth is subjective, and indeed much of public discourse has become increasingly anti-fact and anti-expert.

Fortunately there are numerous shining examples of organizations that are showing us all ‘how to do it better’ ranging across the business spectrum, from beauty to finance, and from fashion to beverages.

With good leadership at the core of these businesses, every member of the organization is enabled to understand and demonstrate ‘why they do it, what they do and how they do it’. And this means leaders of companies taking deliberate and definitive action to ensure that their businesses demonstrate ‘corporate social leadership’.

Along with making reputable products, providing employment, and returning dividends to shareholders; corporations can and should endeavour to make the world a better place, contributing to, and engaging with society.

This will also enable the truism that ‘good business is good business’.

The end result, from a customer point of view, is that these brands are then seen by the consumer as being on their side, standing with them and matching their own values in an inspirational manner. Because in a post-truth era, we want, and need, to believe in something. And increasingly, brands that really do ‘live it like they say it’ are some of the few things on which we can actually believe and rely.

To act as a reference guide for the leaders of ‘good businesses’ here is a brief summary of the key learnings.

The Post-Truth Brand Manifesto

Be authentic – Truly authentic companies that want to earn and keep our trust have to ‘live it like they say it’ and dovetail brand intentions with the consumer reality. Because from a customer point of view, behavior is what builds brand credibility and corporate integrity, not merely the advertising stories that a brand may choose to tell.

Be transparent – For brands to thrive, business leaders need to find a way to regain and retain the confidence of employees. This starts with transparency. This is a business-wide issue, involving every facet of the organization.

Respect privacy – It’s hard to overstate the seriousness of this subject, and the levels of antipathy engendered towards businesses that are seen to be profiting from ‘surveillance capitalism’.

Demonstrate empathy – More and more people want to find ‘meaning and purpose’ in their working lives, and are attracted to culturally aware, ‘good neighbour’ companies that reflect their viewpoints as ‘social citizens’.

Be trustworthy – It’s no coincidence when companies, which are trusted most, tend to be legacy brands which have clearly demonstrated their ‘good business’ and/or ‘reliable product’ credentials, or indeed are those with transparency built-in to the core of their business model.

The Post-Truth Business

Sean Pillot de Chenecey, author of The Post-Truth Business: How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World (CLICK HERE to get your copy), has over 20 years’ experience as a brand expert, combining marketing consultancy with ethnographic activity and trend research around the world. His clients have included Unilever, Swatch, Heineken, Diageo, General Motors, Beiersdorf, AXA, Costa, Vodafone, Kerrygold and Starwood.

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