A Model for Trust
Connecting and engaging with consumers in a believable way is key to building a successful brand
By John Seifert, Ogilvy, 2010
Not long ago, at the International Advertising Association's Global Marketing Summit, I spoke about the "new normal" state, where we as marketers and agencies are finding that consumers are highly engaged but often distrustful. As we seek to revitalize brands in a post-recession economy, we must acknowledge that the swift and harsh criticism leveled at iconic companies, brands, and people that were perceived to have contributed to the recession has had a dramatic effect.
The reasons why these players came under siege are diverse, but for now, they all have lost something very essential: trust. Although this loss of trust may or may not be warranted, the lesson for all of us engaged in building and growing brands in a "reset" world is obvious: We now market products and services without full control over the messaging that surrounds our brands, yet we are still accountable for every message, both good and bad.
In the past, building a brand was a much simpler proposition. Assuming you offered a product or service that was reliable and delivered good value, there was no transaction hurdle to overcome. Our job as the agency was to create a largely one-way message that encouraged consumers to try the product or service, convert them into customers, and build lasting loyalty.
All that has changed. The agency model of the future calls for evolving the message as the marketplace shifts, to keep ahead of changing consumer, media, and cultural habits. Indeed, to be relevant and valued, agencies must navigate the complex web of communications to help grow our clients' brands. In this way we can reclaim the role of partner and help guide companies and brands in the new-normal marketplace.
For brands today, "community branding" is the new standard. The ability to engage in a discussion with consumers from a position of trust and openness can help enhance a product's or company's image and limit negative commentary. Unfortunately, brand managers can't control who is saying what, and some lack the skills to engage critics or collaborate with supporters. This is where an agency with expertise in social media can help a business embrace the new marketplace.
Successful brands today are contextual. Communication is no longer linear. To succeed, a brand and its agency must effectively tap into all traditional and nontraditional communication channels and recognize that by mastering the new communications ecosystem and effectively connecting and engaging with consumers, they can build both trust and the brand.
That is not enough, however. Brand building requires us to look beyond the product or service. The brand platform must be built on an even stronger corporate platform, one that can stand the test of Twitter and Google. The company behind the brand is no longer anonymous. To build trust, a company must stay true to its vision and communicate it to consumers in a believable way. The company that achieves this is what our client Jon Iwata, chief marketing officer for IBM, calls an "authentic enterprise."
Trust is critical to brand health because consumer skepticism is so pervasive. Brands need societal relevance. They must be involved at every touch point and engage in conversations in the marketplace. Simply put, a company and its brand can't fake it. The world is transparent. Failure to grasp this concept, especially in a crisis, will cause your product and your company to be dismissed as irrelevant in the best case, or worse, deemed evil.
While those of us who work in marketing are wrestling with the new realities of branding in the digital age, the tough economy has also created an "intramural" trust gap between clients and agencies. It's clear that clients are less trusting of the advertising industry. In part that's because the growing number of channels has made it increasingly difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of communications and demonstrate why clients should invest in media.
A Question of Value
At Ogilvy & Mather, we strive to live up to the mission set forth by David Ogilvy: to be valued by those who value brands most. It's been proven that kids in a garage with a digital camera can create an ad that a client will pay to air during the Super Bowl. But it takes more than one or two communication channels to build a successful brand, especially in a world where a product malfunction in one country can spark a worldwide stir fueled by bloggers, citizen journalists, and Tweeters. Agencies with multidisciplinary expertise are uniquely positioned to close the trust gap with clients and build the kind of trust with consumers that clients and their brands need to thrive.
To remain valuable, the agency model must evolve with the changing consumer and media landscape. We have to demonstrate that we can lead in the face of technological innovation every day. Agencies won't win client trust in huge strides. It will be earned incrementally, success upon success, as the technological revolution marches on.
Ogilvy & Mather believes the world would be a better place if we could bring out the inner greatness in brands, companies, and people. But that mission requires trust.
About the Author
John Seifert is chairman and CEO of Ogilvy
& Mather North America.
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