Don’t let outsourcing cost you brand trust

Ruth Mortimer

The bobby on the beat may soon be hanging up his truncheon. It was revealed this week that some UK police duties could be taken on by an employee of a private company, if government plans to outsource certain services go ahead.

The police outsourcing project could theoretically include everything from investigating crimes to patrolling neighbourhoods. The home secretary Theresa May says that by involving the private sector in this “business partnership”, it means that frontline policing can be protected.

Regardless of whether you agree with the politics here, it is always a tricky decision for any organisation to outsource elements of a brand. In the end, it all comes down to trust. Either you have the trust of your customers or you don’t. Any situation where you consider outsourcing must be judged on these terms.

The UK’s police forces have long marketed themselves on trust. Some of the best ad campaigns of recent years have focused on this. A ‘Meet your neighbours’ campaign in London last autumn focused on how the public should get to know their local police officers and community support officers. Northumbria police has spent several years running the ‘It’s good to know’ campaign, which “aims to improve trust and confidence in the police”.

Many have noted that the police has a large job to do in building trust, especially among the young. Can this be achieved by outsourcing?

During last summer’s riots in Britain, many commentators noted that the police has a large job to do in building trust, especially among young people. Can this be achieved by outsourcing? Private sector companies do not have the same established relationship with the public as police officers, which has been built up over generations.

Nor should brands who are not the police or a public sector body think they are exempt from this dilemma. Mark Ritson takes a look at Facebook’s potential stock market flotation this week. He argues that by outsourcing its users’ personal social space to brands (allowing them to post on users’ newsfeeds) it risks what people most value about its own brand.

“I wonder, as Facebook’s executives extolled the virtues of building brand equity to their big clients last week, whether their thoughts strayed to another brand of great importance: their own,” says Ritson.

Trust in institutions globally has fallen by a record amount this year, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2012. Trust in businesses also fell, with credibility of chief executives declining by the biggest margin for nine years.

This week, we have seen the police and Facebook busy tracking their financial metrics. But they must remember to track their trust metrics too. In the end, it is a mix of the two that will define if the brands survive in good shape.

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