The third age of branding: actions speak louder than words
Consumers trust CSR programmes that have clear goals with measurable outcomes much more than 'greenwash'.
Umpteen interviews and opinion pieces have dwelt on the decline of citizen and customer trust in old-style institutions such as the government, media and banks.
Meanwhile, there has been a rise in people's confidence in their social, workplace and family networks as sources of trusted information and advice. So what can those doubted institutions actually do to rebuild trust?
They say that actions speak louder than words, so the last thing they need is more rhetoric. Jean-Paul Sartre was right when he declared that what we do - how we act in our life - determines our apparent qualities. It is not that someone tells the truth because they are honest, but rather that they define themselves as honest by telling the truth again and again.
There is a wealth of research data, including work commissioned by 23red through Trajectory, which shows that the current generation is the first to assume corporate social responsibility as a 'hygiene factor'.
We're in the third age of branding, and ethical values are vital in addition to functional and emotional ones.
A great brand needs to be 'good'. Just talking isn't convincing, however; it's all about actually doing the right thing.
This is why CSR programmes that have clear and publicly stated goals with measurable outcomes and timelines are so much more trusted than 'greenwash'.
Better still are those 'good' activities that enable people to contribute by doing something too. Every time I put one of those green tokens in the collection box of my choice, I feel good about myself and think well of Waitrose.
This is on top of an excellent shopping experience, practically and in terms of self-image. The same applies to the government, media and banks: we'll trust what you do, not what you say.
What does this third age of branding mean for marketers?
- Fire on all three cylinders
Review the brand promise in terms of its functional and rational, emotional and psychological, and ethical and moral dimensions. Ensure the promise is embedded in the brand's DNA and has the right centre of gravity between these three components for its market sector and target audience. Consider how effectively each brand value is being conveyed and use research to check how well the brand promise is being kept among its stakeholders.
- Grasp the nettle
If you find a skeleton in your brand's cupboard to do with inappropriate imagery, poor product performance or immoral or unethical behaviour, you must apologise, rectify and move on. Dithering and denial are trust-destroyers.
- Walk the talk
The whole company, not just the marketing department, must live the brand. Don't forget the internal audience of employees. Ensure that the actions of these brand ambassadors, whether in the call centre, retail outlets or on the road, are aligned with the brand values being communicated externally. This engages the staff and all stakeholders including the government, unions, shareholders and customers.
Jane Asscher is managing partner and chairman of 23red
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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