The Future Is Where Brands Must Focus

Guest
post from Sean Pillot de Chenecey:
Brands are built on trust, but
in a post-truth world, they have a serious problem when so much of modern life
is now defined by mistrust.
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, when ‘reputation capital’ is
of such immense importance, where the difference between Brand A and Brand B
(and indeed Brand C, D, and E) so often comes down to our belief in those core
questions of ‘are they honest, competent and reliable?’ Because if a brand
isn’t trustworthy, it’ll be rejected in favour of one that is.
And the actions that these
brands take to demonstrate their credibility must clearly illustrate a blend of
corporate ethics and brand authenticity.
But a problem that’s becoming
ever more visible is that some organisations have made authenticity their
marketing strategy, rather than a business one. As a result, they come across
as manufactured i.e. the very opposite of authentic. 
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 organisation. Companies have to be consistent in their behaviour,
from top to bottom, and right along the supply chain, from the ‘first hand of
production to the final hand of the consumer’.
And this genuinely has to go
all the way. Therefore, it includes issues such as the ethical sourcing of
ingredients, to environmentally sound production methodologies, to paying a
decent living wage to production line workers, to adhering to animal-welfare,
to pricing in a transparent manner, to communicating totally honest claims,
etc.
Make no mistake, organisations
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, Planet,
and to quote a much-derided word ‘Purpose’ have to be in there too.
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.
And 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.
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 recently “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 organisations that are showing us all ‘how to do it better’
ranging across the business spectrum, in sectors ranging from beauty to
finance, and from fashion to beverages.
With good leadership at the
core of these businesses, every member of the organisation are enabled to
understand and demonstrate ‘why they do it, what they do and how they do it’.
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. 
However, I firmly believe that
whilst ‘reputation capital’ is an absolutely vital foundation of successful and
enduring brands, this purely tells us about their past actions. The future is
where brands must focus.
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’.
To act as a reference guide
for the leaders of ‘good businesses’ in my book I’ve collated the key learnings
into a ‘Post-Truth Brand Manifesto’.
Here is a very brief summary
of it…
The Post-Truth Brand Manifesto
Be
authentic
Authenticity has been one of
the core tenets of successful businesses since the idea of branding first
began. But truly authentic companies that want to earn and keep our trust have
to ‘live it like they say it’. Thus the organisation dovetails their brand
intentions with the consumer and employee reality.
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 organisation.
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 who 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.
Sean
Pillot de Chenecey
, author of The Post-Truth Business: How to
Rebuild Brand Authenticity in a Distrusting World, 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. He’s collaborated with numerous international
advertising, branding, design, media and PR agencies. He is a lecturer at the
University of the Arts London, and has written for Dazed, Admap, Brand
Strategy, Marketing and Contagious. A public speaker, he’s given speeches for
over a decade in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and North America. For
more information, please visit www.koganpage.com/post-truth-business.