Trust and the trusted. Brands that build trust are the brands that will survive in the new age of candour. Here’s how
It’s tempting to think that the recession is a temporary dip—that sooner or later we’ll be back to business as usual. Warren Bennis begs to differ. The much-respected US management academic warns that among the many changes this recession will bring is a new ‘culture of candour’—that is, a much higher expectation for transparency in business.
“It’s clear we need a better way to evaluate business,” he says. “The new metric of corporate leadership will be closer to this: the extent to which executives create organisations that are economically, ethically and socially sustainable.”
Bennis isn’t alone. The June edition of the Harvard Business Review contains a cover story called ‘Rethinking trust’. Its radical hypothesis is that our propensity to trust our fellows is potentially a curse. “Our willingness to trust often gets us into trouble. Moreover, we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing trustworthy people from untrustworthy ones. At a species level, that doesn’t matter very much so long as more people are trustworthy than not. At the individual level, though, it can be a real problem. To survive as individuals, we’ll have to learn to trust wisely and well.”
Trust under threat
Revising the value of trust as a virtue is perhaps just another way of saying “sharpen up!” That’s a message we all need to hear, especially after we all piled into dumb investments such as leaky apartments.
More disturbing is the low level of trust that already exists in New Zealand. A new report called the Sustainability Priorities Monitor, conducted for Sustainable Advantage by research company Perceptive, shows that consumers do not have much trust in business to balance economic, social and environmental responsibility. “Only 27 percent of respondents said they trusted business to balance these responsibilities and 37 percent said they didn’t ... The remainder, just over one-third, were uncertain and could tip either way depending on what the business does,” says Nick Jones of Sustainable Advantage.
Amazingly, 55 percent of consumers say they have stopped buying from businesses they don’t trust in the past six months and 61 percent of them then urged family and friends to do the same.
That’s an incredible statistic and perhaps sheds light on why so much of our marketing effort simply falls on deaf ears—and wallets.
Brands build trust
One response to this distributing lack of trust is to invest in brand. Brooke Ashton Taylor of Wellington design agency Creature sums it up nicely: “Brand is a five-letter word that spells trust.”
But not any brand will do. Enron is a strong brand, strong in everything bad. Warren Bennis goes on to describe the attributes that ‘leadership brands’ display. Brands such Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi and GE:
- Do the basics well, like setting strategy and grooming talent
- Ensure managers internalise their customers’ high expectations
- Evaluate their leaders according to those external perspectives
- Invest in leadership development, honing the skills needed to meet customer and investor expectations
- Track their success at building a leadership brand over the long term.
Most of us in business would be terrified to really know what our customers—or non-customers—really hope we could do for them. Marketing guru Theodore Levitt was famous for saying “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill—they want a quarter-inch hole.” By focusing on how our brands can serve those external expectations, perhaps we’ll stop wasting our time on flogging drills.
The following showcase is full of people who have listened, interpreted and given back what their customers really want. Brands that build trust are the brands that will survive in the new age of candour.