It was a new era and a quantum leap: a crying out for words such as "ethics" and "trust" indulged by the rapid adoption across corporate governance, stakeholder groups, CSR, business ethics and the role of vision, mission, values and culture within companies.
Studies audaciously revealed that people had more trust in brands than the church, government and institutions! In the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacle, this took a thorough beating for sure, but we're an optimistic lot, and past failures are not an indication of future performance. Or so we thought.
This merger of the economic and ethical has transformed the meaning and context of trust. Hitherto, trust has been an essential ingredient of all brands and their reputations. Consumer expectations are a combination emotional and rational: that the brand can and will deliver on promise and that it won't rip them off.
Here's the catch: Stocks do not have a memory-recall button, but consumers do. And now we're deep into another debacle where global markets have been ripped to shreds and working folk are losing their livelihoods and homes, all the while staring down the barrel at sky-high gas prices, avoiding salmonella-infected jalapeno peppers, toys coated in lead paint, lethal pet foods, plastic bottles leaching chemicals.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Dean Crutchfield is a brand consultant. He was senior VP-marketing at Wolff Olins from 2002 to 2008. Previously, he worked at brand businesses including Landor, Michael Peters and Luxon Carra.
The notion of trust (in the commercial world) is still naively centered on the transaction itself and minimizing the "risk" involved -- which is what brands are supposedly all about. But even at this level of transactional trust, the relationship between businesses and consumers is a contract of trust that clearly has been broken. With money easy to come by, confidence at arrogant levels, hedge-fund managers heralded as kings and basic risk-management theory thrown out the window, we are again steeped in murky waters.
The outcome will be that our notion of trust has dramatically moved on from just the transaction itself or trust in the company's product, to trust in the people behind the product. Right now, it's less about "Can I trust them to deliver?" and more about "Are they the sort of people who would ... sell me a stock that wasn't worth the paper it was written on? Tell me a product safe when it's not? Test on animals? Or pollute the environment, all in search of a profit?"
Today, most organizations commonly refer to the meaning of share in terms of market share, profit share, revenue share and share of wallet. What they often foolishly overlook, however, is that they are also competing with other organizations for share of trust.
So in today's world, full of litigation, accusation, scandal and bankruptcy, evidence and counter evidence, when it's down to the wire, whom do you trust?
To regain trust we must first learn from the carnage of message management we have been through these past 12 months. From the very beginning we created a cacophony of conflicting messages from discombobulated departments: investor relations, marketing, public affairs, media relations and HR. Then it dawned on all of us that audiences overlap, and the need for unity and consistency is critical. Making matters worse is that we all knew this already.
Heart of the economy
Secondly, the smug belief that perception is reality has been found wanting. The truth should not be whatever you get others to believe, it should be about the delivery between word and deed. Finance might be the brain of the economy, but brands are its heart.
People and businesses live their lives in the future, not the present. If you take away the future, the present becomes meaningless. So as we reap the bitter harvest of imprudent lending, there will be revealed a huge new market for trust that the few and the honorable can mount. In this overwhelming need for revitalization of trust, corporations, governments and regulators will all be ferociously fighting to recapture their share.
So even if I'm thanking Paulson for the bailout and calling the police to tell them my tax dollars have been stolen, it all comes down to whom you trust. And in this market for "trust" -- worth trillions -- the battle will be won and lost on the words and deeds of brands.