Brands have the chance to change the mood of the nation

Whether it is Nike championing Colin Kaepernick, Lacoste changing its logo or Gillette’s ‘The Best Men Can Be’, it is better to stand up and be criticised than not do anything at all.

Trust: hard won, easily lost. It is trite, it is a cliché but it is true.

I realise I am a little obsessed with it. I firmly believe that trust sits at the heart of a brand’s relationship with its consumer. It trumps value, accessibility, quality. Break the trust of your consumer and you will pay a heavy price.

It may have been the case ‘back in the day’ that a brand could withstand the odd knock to trust but I would not like to take the risk now, with consumers (rightly) more than happy to rate their experience, and with so many more outlets through which they can express their views.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer paints a bleak picture of a Britain where trust is dying, with families and communities divided over Brexit; people feeling life is unfair, that the Government ignores ‘people like them’ and that the country is on the wrong track. Trust in our political leaders, the media and NGOs has fallen and half of us believe the sociopolitical system isn’t working. It makes me want to weep.

But there is no point wringing our hands. We need to focus on what, if anything, we can do to help heal the country. On a personal level we can all commit to be kinder, more considerate of our friends and neighbours. But it takes a brave brand to step in the fray. We can all think of examples where a brand has tried and failed. And no one wants to be burned. But I think that now is the very moment when well thought-through, carefully planned interventions from brands could be transformational.

“Yeah”, I can hear you thinking, “easier said than done.” But the same Edelman report also reveals that increasing numbers of UK consumers are looking towards business to show leadership on broad societal issues, like the environment, gender politics, racism, financial probity. Increasingly consumers and employees are looking to CEOs to drive change during these uncertain times.

If you think about the brands who have come unstuck when they have taken a position, it is almost certain that this lies at the heart of the failure

In an era of fake news, people are looking to the boss as a source of reliable information. They also want to see the boss taking action instead of waiting for lawmakers to force change – if and when they get around to it.

It is a huge responsibility but it is also a huge opportunity. People are inviting brands to jump off the fence and do something. So what is the role of the marketer in this new world? I think it is to give our leaders courage, to help them identify the right issues – those which are relevant to our brand, our values and our consumers; those that will build trust in our brand as well as have a positive broader societal impact.

Then, having settled on our ‘thing’, we need to craft a meaningful campaign which is more than a few ads. Consumers are not easily fooled: if your public statements don’t ring true, you will have done more damage than if you had stayed silent. Authenticity is key.

For almost all businesses there will need to be a degree of getting our own houses in order. For some this will be a taller order than for others. People will tolerant brands saying we haven’t always got this right in the past, we are working to change, we aren’t perfect. But they will punish you if the way you talk doesn’t match the way you walk.

READ MORE: Nike ‘proud’ of Colin Kaepernick ad as campaign drives ‘record engagement’

Indeed if you think about the brands who have come unstuck when they have taken a position, it is almost certain that this lies at the heart of the failure. You know what I mean: the business leader who goes on Question Time to talk about rights and freedoms but who treats his staff poorly.

How an organisation treats its staff is a factor in walking the walk. I was struck to discover that around three-quarters of people in the UK believe that how a business treats its employees is a key indicator of trustworthiness. For a brand to be trusted by consumers it needs to engage its employees positively and those staff need to believe that the leaders of their business are genuine and committed.

As marketers we need to use that insight to drive effective internal engagement. This means treating colleagues as both an audience and as channel. If they can buy in to your story they can turn in to powerful advocates for the business, helping to drive brand consideration and helping to bring about real change.

And with so much that we could change, and with so many consumers looking for it, I for one would like to see more brands be brave. Because for every campaign that misfires, there are those that hit the spot.

Whether it is Nike championing Colin Kaepernick, Lacoste changing its logo or Gillette’s ‘The Best Men Can Be’, they all could have done nothing, no one would have criticised them for their silence but they stepped up and for me at least they have grown in my estimation. Chapeau.

Tanya Joseph is director of external relations at Nationwide