Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building
The value proposition of verified truth and honesty is rapidly turning into the foundation of strong marketing strategy in an era where consumers, starved of trust and belief, impose change on how brand relationships are built.
We’ve lost the signals of credibility.
Some time ago we reported on the impact of digital conditions in the marketplace and instantaneous access to anything you want to know. This manifests as ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – hence every company now resides in a glass house. This is an outcome of pervasive social and digital communication and dramatically increased scrutiny of how brands and businesses operate. Daily we are confronted with outed fraudulent practices, misinformation and less than genuine product representations, mislabeling, omissions, recalls, investigations, misrepresentations of fact, even indictments — all while messaging perceived as self-reverential brand apple-polishing and brimming with marketing hyperbole falls increasingly on deaf ears.
Toss into this milieu, everyone with a device is now a content creator…and not all content creators (or their motives) are created equally. Today’s digital platforms foster an environment where opinions look like news to our always scanning eye. And those who opine may not be professionally trained, held to or bound by time-honored journalistic practices which have protected the word-consuming public. John Kass, columnist at the Chicago Tribune recently lamented the rush-to-support style of reporting in the Jussie Smollett debacle as evidence of how journalism standards remain vital. He urged reporters to revisit the old but wise axiom of “if your mother loves you, check it out.”
Brand trust heads south.
An outcome of fractures in belief and trust is a shift away from marketing’s traditional tactic of attempted ‘persuasion.’ In this environment, when assertion-based claims are deployed it can breed further contempt. People aren’t buying any of it.
The unintended consequence of always on 24/7 availability of everything about everyone is the rapid spread of information chronicling corporate misfires. The steady drumbeat of ‘caught in the act’ misdeeds subtracts from the consumer’s willingness to trust any voice driven by a profit motive.
- In a recent global research study of some 350,000 consumers HAVAS advertising found that consumers would not shed a tear if 77% of the world’s brands were to disappear. So much for the millions invested in building brand equity. If the brand becomes a less relevant commodity in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no deeper meaning or relationship there to be had.
- Further 58% of advertising and promotion for the world’s 1,800 leading brands is seen as irrelevant. If the communication isn’t constructed around what’s important to the consumer, and is more about the brand’s self-reverential promotion, the disconnect is already embedded in the communications strategy.
- Of note, brands that are considered truly meaningful to people soared over other businesses on overall impression, purchase intent, advocacy and justification for premium pricing. Meaning, values and purpose are fundamental to earning permission for a relationship. Does a brand have a soul? Apparently one is needed. Those without risk dying on the shelf.
The study concludes: usefulness and delivering on what you say you are may be more important than anything else. What does that tell you? Demonstratingcredibility and taking actions to earn trust are prerequisites to engagement. Transparency is an important path to proven authenticity and belief.
- The value proposition for truth and honesty goes up daily in proportion to the growing weariness over evidence that some brands operate selfishly at best and dishonestly at worst. What consumers want are brands that listen; that make a priority of working overtime to be relevant and engaged in their lifestyle aspirations. Consumers are resonating to brands that have a soul, stand for something greater than themselves, and see the value of integrity standards and faithfulness to more human values.
There’s equity and opportunity in operating openly. What does the alchemy of advantage look like when the formerly powerful rules of brand command and control that once governed how to go to market no longer apply?
Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims
Several years ago we were helping a client (Schuman Cheese) in the cheese industry to mitigate rampant fraud, adulteration and mislabeling in their category. A significant percentage of the Italian cheese business in the U.S. was adulterated with lesser ingredients to protect profit margins. To help solve the challenge, we developed and launched the first trust mark in the cheese industry. The True Cheese seal we created would appear on product packaging to signal the product inside meets or exceeds the standard of identify for the type of cheese, and that the ingredient label is indeed truthful.
Outside testing of products bearing the seal would be done randomly and unannounced by sampling retail products from store shelves – the same products consumers buy. Tests performed by a respected outside third-party laboratory confirmed adherence to the code of Federal regulation and findings were published.
When we launched it was a big media story – about fake Parmesan cheese – that went viral in 72 hours and got sufficient traction in popular culture to prompt the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to feature an entire segment on the adulterated Parmesan cheese development.
Important to note that retailers resonated to the verified trust approach and believed they were better off to stock the real thing than take chances with something that might not be.
What’s the story you’re telling?
Consumers want the truth but understandably are reticent to accept company assertions at face value. Hence the incredible surge of interest in Transparency.
Being transparent means you allow consumers to observe for themselves what goes on behind the corporate curtain in product creation and ingredient sourcing.
Trust marks and seals are shorthand for validation. Standards and testing organizations like NSF.org are gaining traction as companies in food, beverage and lifestyle categories increasingly look for ways to credibly prove the quality story embedded in their products.
Recently Organic Valley and Maple Hill jointly announced the “Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program” to address misleading labeling in the grass-fed dairy products marketplace. The program, unlike others in the organic category, requires a full supply chain verification before qualifying to use the mark.
The strategic linkage in these validation programs and others we predict will come, is recognition that trust is vital to consumers and that assertions aren’t good enough to secure belief. Transparency’s call for openness and clarity, for access and demonstration to be brought to life through various techniques aimed at letting consumers, experts and media in the tent to see for themselves what brands hope they will recognize as truth.
Blockchain to digitize honesty
Perhaps the most significant development to come in the quest for verifiable trust is the advancement of digital solutions that are essentially tamperproof. Blockchain’s great promise is digital ledgers and contracts supported by the deployment of sensors and scanners — and backed by algorithms that monitor and validate every step from the soil to the store. Truth tech that will prove the tomato’s organic and heirloom heritage, its cultivation and harvest, its safe handling and freshness from the ground to store shelf.
Imagine the marketing opportunity that awaits for digitally verified trust… Emergent is following the development of Blockchain technology and is studying its evolution as we seek to stay ahead of Transparency strategies for our clients.
Where are you on the curve to provide these proof points in your marketing strategy?
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.