Trust: How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity

trust

Trust.

It seems the days are gone when we trust easily. From individuals to organizations, our trust seems to be declining with each passing year.

And yet organizations build their brands on trust.

In his newly released book, The Post-Truth Business:  How to Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World, researcher and strategist Sean Pillot de Chenecey shares what brands need to do to have authentic, long-lasting relationships with their consumers in an age of fake news, privacy issues, and the search for truth.

 

The Number One Issue Facing Brands

Your view on the importance of trust is clear from the very first page where you say, “Trust is the number one issue facing brands on a global basis.” What leads you to this conclusion? How is this different than years ago? 

Around the world, brand foundations are being shaken. It’s apparent that many brand-consumer relationships are on rocky ground, and something fundamental needs to change.

According to The Economist, “Consumer trust is the basis of all brand values, and therefore brands have an immense incentive to retain it.” And as that immensely powerful business-figurehead Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, stated so succinctly, “Once you have trust, the rest is easy.” However, these statements are set against a harsh reality illuminated by a much-cited industry report from the Havas agency, which noted that, “Much of the trust, respect and loyalty people had for many brands has disintegrated. You see it in the level of cynicism, skepticism and indifference that people have towards them.”

Company strategists are finally realizing that consumers are increasingly judging brands by how they actually behave, as opposed to simply believing the stories they tell. Thus, their brand credibility needs to be based on fact, not fiction. Businesses want to have strong and long-lasting relationships with their consumers. That brand-consumer relationship is built on trust, but in a post-truth world, brands are faced with a serious challenge: so much of modern life is defined by mistrust. So, for brands today, trust and truth are the most important games in town.

 

“Once you have trust, the rest is easy.” -Jack Ma

 

How to Build Trust

Share a few of the principles organizations should use to build trust.

To act as a reference guide for the leaders of ‘good businesses,’ I’ve collated the key learnings into a ‘Post-Truth Brand Manifesto.’ Here is a very brief summary of it…

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.

How to Fuel Purpose and Profit by Doing Good

do good

More than Profit

Customers are increasingly expecting more from brands. Many consumers expect far more from companies than for them to increase profits. They expect organizations to “do good” in society.

A former executive director of strategy and planning and head of consulting at Interbrand, Anne Bahr Thompson, founded Onesixtyfourth, a strategic and creative consultancy, to help leaders integrate social responsibility into their brands, business strategy, and corporate culture. Her passion for challenging organizations to a more collaborative way of thinking grabbed my attention. And her new book, Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit, is not only a call to action but a blueprint to help leaders move from a Me-to-We mentality of service.

I recently spoke with Anne about her work. 

 

“When a brand clearly communicates what it delivers, it provides customers with a benchmark from which to measure all their interactions with that brand.” -Anne Bahr Thompson

 

What explains this incredible shift from a profits-only focus to one where we expect brands to “Do Good”?

There are a number of things underlying this shift. Overall, profound changes in technology, politics, the global economy, and the rise of social media have reshaped the landscape for business. The wired, digital world in which brands now operate has impacted the traditional pact between companies and their customers, employees, and stakeholders. As people’s expectations for their relationships with brands have shifted, businesses are finding that their success is tied to their ability to demonstrate that they are committed to doing good, helping to solve people’s bigger social and environmental concerns.

More specifically, five factors have been at play:

  1. On the most basic level, greater consciousness of people across the globe and social media demand that we pay attention to inequities we’ve previously been able to ignore. And, most people now acknowledge the planet does not have unlimited resources.
  2. Further, technology has reshaped our cultural narrative. The ability to cut and paste things together has trained us that we no longer need to choose between opposites. What follows is that the notions of making a profit while simultaneously doing good no longer seem at odds with one another.
  3. As many people have discussed, the power of social media and the impact of stories and images going viral have forced businesses to lis­ten and respond in ways that are unprecedented for many of them.
  4. People are frustrated with partisan politics. Beginning in 2011, participants in my research were saying that business was better suited than government to step in and fix big problems.
  5. The economic downturn in 2008 accelerated a nascent trend that began with the digital revolution at the turn of the millennium, which emphasized a shift from shareholder to stakeholder value. Since then, big name investors such as Larry Fink of BlackRock and Jamie Dimon of JPMC have visibly promoted a shift in orientation from short-term returns to long-termism. Add in the rise of various movements beginning with Occupy Wall Street and extending to #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and #GunControlNow, and it’s hard to ignore that the call for more equity and fairness in business decision making has grown stronger.

 

What is “Brand Citizenship”?

Brand Citizenship is an ethos that aligns purpose and profit. It’s a five-step model that emerged from the grassroots up, over three years of qualitative and quantitative research, deconstructing brand leadership from good corporate citizenship and favorite brands, which is a proxy for brand loyalty. Beginning with a meaningful purpose, Brand Citizenship simultaneously delivers benefits to individual customers and employees and betters the world. The five steps of the model – trust, enrichment, responsibility, community, and contribution – span across something I’ve labelled the ME-to-WE continuum. My research demonstrated that people look to the brands they buy and businesses they support to help solve their personal ME problems as well as their wider WE concerns about the environment, the economy and social issues.

 

5 Steps of Brand Citizenship

Unleash the Power of Brand-Culture Fusion for Maximum Growth

fusion

Having read more books than I can name about leadership, branding, and culture, I am surprised at how rare it is to see one that combines the power of all of them.

But that’s just what my friend Denise Lee Yohn did in her exceptional new book, FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Great Companies.

As one of the world’s leading authorities on brand-building, Denise tackles one of the most important and overlooked aspects of a strong brand: company culture.

It’s the FUSION of brand and culture that creates organizational power.

After reading the book, which I also proudly endorsed, I followed up with Denise to talk about her research into brand and culture.

 

The Importance of Culture

Denise, you are well known for your work on branding. This book takes a different turn as it is as much, if not more, about organizational culture. Tell us about why you decided to address culture.

FUSION actually came out of my work with clients on strengthening and/or repositioning their brands.  I found that our efforts were sometimes held back from making as much of an impact as they could have because of cultural issues inside the organization. If the culture of the organization wasn’t aligned with the brand, some leaders wouldn’t want to include culture as part of brand-building, or they didn’t appreciate the need to align and integrate their brand and culture — to create brand-culture fusion — and that prevented them from realizing the full potential of their organization and their brand.

 

“Great brands are built from the inside out.” -Denise Lee Yohn

 

You say that a key leadership responsibility is the integration of culture and brand. Has this always been true? What are the best ways to accomplish this?

Brand-culture fusion has always required strong leadership from the top of the organization, but it has become more important in recent years, given the corporate culture crisis that has arisen. Leaders can no longer assume their organizations will have a healthy culture if they’re nice and decent people — it takes deliberate effort to cultivate a unique, valuable, sustainable culture.

 

“You must accept the challenge to lead your organization to greatness.” -Denise Lee Yohn

 

Drop Your Mission Statement

Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition

dna

Branding that Gets to Aha!

Andy Cunningham played a key role in the launch of the original Macintosh. Which I think qualifies her to say, “Hey, I’m kind of a big deal!” I mean, Steve Jobs level big deal.

But she doesn’t say that at all. Instead, she helps other organizations with branding, positioning and marketing.

She’s just released a book, Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition. It’s a framework to help you understand and position your company. I found it intriguing and asked her to share some of her experience with you.

 

“Perceptions today are grounded in and sustained by authenticity.” -Andy Cunningham

 

Branding Gone Wrong

You recently surveyed 100 North American CEOs, and fewer than 1/3 felt that the brand strategy they had commissioned had been effective. Why do we so often get it wrong?

Branding campaigns fail or fall flat for several reasons: resistance to change, uncertainty around how to implement the strategy, too many competing ideas—maybe even business strategy that has moved beyond a recently completed brand initiative.

But there’s another big reason: branding is too much fun. (Yes, really!) Branding is the part of a marketing campaign that gets a lot of attention—the eye candy that the senior leadership is quick to notice. Why? Because it speaks to the emotional side of a product or service and is a great distraction from the day-to-day, boring details behind that product or service. But when you launch straight into branding before parsing those “boring” details—before you understand the exact space in the marketing landscape your company is uniquely qualified to fill—you’re putting the cart before the horse. A sexy or fun brand package is great to look at, but if it doesn’t capture a company’s role and relevance in the market (its position), then it’s little more than a pretty face without any substance to back it up. That’s where my DNA-based methodology comes in. It offers an actionable framework for using your company’s genetic makeup to determine competitive advantage.

 

 

The 2 Most Important Questions

Prepare Your Brand for Unpredictability

Become a Free Range Brand

For many years, the big brands dominated powerfully over all. Little-known brands struggled to be noticed, hoping for shelf space or a PR miracle that would catapult them to the top.

That’s all changed now says Nicole Ertas, who argues that it’s easier for a challenger brand to gain a following even without the massive marketing budget of the biggest players.

Good news for the smaller players and for personal branding, too.

With little money and recognition, how do the challengers gain traction?

And what must the big names do to respond?

 

Nicole Ertas is the founder and president of The Ertas Group and author of Free Range Brands. She has helped build some of the world’s most influential brands. I recently asked her to share her branding insights.

 

“Authenticity can’t be claimed on the surface, it needs to be practiced.” -Nicole Ertas

 

Design for the Unpredictable

What is a Free Range Brand?

unnamed-2The big legacy brands we’ve known forever were built in an era of one-way, controlled communication.   TV, print, radio, retail distribution were all very controlled and well planned by big brands with big money, locking challenger brands out.

But today, not only have the barriers lowered for the challenger brands, these brands are able to engage communities in ways the big brands don’t know how.  The big brands aren’t set up for this and are quickly losing relevancy.

The brands that are thriving in this new world have made the shift from the old-world model of planning for control to the new world model of planning for unpredictability.  In fact, they are designed for unpredictability.  They are set up to let go.   I call these the Free Range Brands.

 

“A brand must be timeless and trendy at the same time.” -Nicole Ertas

 

Transform Your Brand

How can a brand set itself up to navigate unpredictability and become more relevant?

Today’s consumers demand brands that embrace an unwavering authentic core, but in a hyper-relevant way.  This essentially means that a brand has to be timeless and trendy at the same time.  Unchanging yet reimagined constantly.  This is what the old-school marketing models don’t account for.

The shift to going Free Range is simple, but strategically profound.   It requires transforming your Brand Equity to Brand Currency. Free Range Brands trade in Brand Currency.  This is the new mode of engagement, and one that is true to what a brand stands for.

Brand Currency is the dynamic offspring of Brand Equity. It allows your brand to reinvent itself to become relevant without losing its authenticity. By transforming Brand Equity into Brand Currency, brands become agile in an unpredictable marketing environment where leaders need to make decisions quickly without jeopardizing brand value.

 

“Brand currency is the dynamic offspring of brand equity.” -Nicole Ertas

 

4 Consumer Personas to Understand

Free Range BrandsYou reveal 4 consumer personas who each interact with brands in a different way.  Tell us about them

The key is in shifting your mindset from making the brand the hero to creating entry points for a consumer to become the hero.  From brand purpose to consumer purpose, this is how you build community.

There are 4 powerful ways a consumer interacts with a brand – and they can be understood through distinct personas.  They are:  LORDS, LOVERS, HACKERS, and HAWKS

LORDS are the modern-day influencer.  In the past, influencers used to be celebrities. Today, everyone has some form of a following. These are the Lords.  They seek to be recognized and seen by their followers.

LOVERS:  All brands are headed towards commoditization.  This raises the bar for marketers to build a brand over a product.  Lovers connect on values.  What does your brand stand for that your audience values beyond functional benefits?

HACKERS:  Modern day consumers think if brands are for them, then they should have every opportunity to interact and co-create.  Brands that don’t let consumers “in” are missing a profound opportunity to connect.

HAWKS:  Transparency has unleashed generations of distrust of companies.  Now the Hawks are in power, and they know it.  You need to think about everything from sourcing to hiring to ingredients, or the Hawks will unleash with little warning.