Social Branding

A Young & Rubicam survey found that the percentage of brands that consumers considered trustworthy dropped from 52 percent to 22 percent over a decade. Why?

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Until recently there was an impression that many brands were kept behind closed doors, vacuum-sealed for freshness; completely inaccessible behind zillion dollar campaigns. They’ve been aided and abetted by marketing companies in controlling the customer relationship by keeping them largely at arms length.

But then along came social media – the great equaliser – and now the walls are coming down and brands have no choice but to reveal their true colours. The customer has the power, and they’re no longer willing to engage with the brand unless it’s on their terms. So brand trust must be earned every day.

And this will be a big ask for many brands. A Young & Rubicam survey found that the percentage of brands that consumers considered trustworthy dropped from 52 percent to 22 percent over a decade.

Young & Rubicam chief consumer insights officer John Gerzema says that consumers have moved from “mindless consumption to mindful consumption.” So what does this mean? It means that consumers now spend more time researching and more importantly talking about a product before making a purchasing decision.

Whether their hands have been forced is irrelevant, savvy brand strategists and marketers are starting to ‘get it’; recognising their brands need to be transparent and behave accordingly in order to regain the consumers trust.

Executive board chairman Piet van Schijndel from insurance company Interpolis said:

“we had to let go of the old-fashioned concept of an organization built on mistrust and rules. Instead, we started focusing on trust between people; between ourselves and our customers and between the management and
the staff.

Interpolis threw out the conventional ‘we are the brand, we tell you what’s what’ model, and instead of asking customers to provide receipts and questioning their claims, decided they would trust them. The results were:

1. greater operational efficiency

2. a decline in the number of claims

So how do you regain trust in your brand?

1. Speak easy: industry speak is not the language of persuasion. In fact it turns people off. Linkedin, blogs, Facebook and Twitter have created immediate connections with your audience and while it’s great to have your own ‘voice’ don’t ruin it by speaking as if you’re from outer space.

2. Treat content as king: we see somewhere between 250–6,000+ messages every day. While ‘advertising blindness’ is alive and well, the development of strong content is a direct response to customer demand for honesty and transparency. What you say and how you say it will enhance customer perception of your brand. How do you know what to talk about? First you need to listen – check out point 5.

3. Talk to them: in case you haven’t already realised, the brand is not and never has been what you say it is. It’s what your employees and customers say it is. So to understand what they want, create a fantastic product or service and then allow them to choose the platform to share with the world what they love most about your brand. Shift your thinking from transaction to interaction.

4. Way it goes: Kevin Spacey’s character in Swimming With Sharks gave a brilliant speech about the perception that life isn’t fair. This it seems is what scares most corporates about social media – the uncontrollable. However, this shouldn’t stop brands from trying new things. If you stop trying, then you’re not engaging. And if you’re not engaging, you’re what? You’re dead. Sure there are going to be successes and failures but that’s the way it goes.

5. Ear to the ground: pre-social media; market research may have identified your customer as Caucasian, male 26-30, single, earning $65k+. Post social media his name is Derek, he flats with his gf of 4 years, has a cat named after the captain of his favourite rugby team and is considered a key influencer within his group of 300+ friends on Facebook. Your customer is more than a set of statistics, they have the potential to be your greatest source of insight and inspiration.

Just remember if your brand isn’t social you can bet that your competitors’ is… or at the very least is planning to be.