In marketing, we seek to elegantly articulate our brand truth so that we can make that meaningful, authentic connection with our desired consumers. At the same time, our brand truth is in part defined by our consumers’ perceptions. By knowing what our consumers think and feel, we hope to find a space our brand can credibly occupy in their minds and hearts. That space, that mind share, is going to lead them consider, buy, and become loyal to our brand. Ultimately, advocating for us.
But there is an interesting phenomenon happening and I’m curious to get your take on it.
Gartner recently published research on how consumers are aware that brands are observing, collecting, and analyzing their data from their digital activity (My Data, Myself. Gartner Iconoculture. November 6, 2018). And while that may seem kind of creepy to some consumers, we found that many consumers take it as part of the trade for using an app or interacting on social networks. Moreover, we have learned that many consumers consider their digital profile (or portrait) as something that they can purposefully and meaningfully curate. This cohort of particularly savvy consumers wants to make sure their digital portrait reflects, accurately, who they are, how they feel, and what they “look” like.
What a fascinating twist.
Instead of trying to hide from marketers’ collecting tactics, they embrace it! They want to own their digital portraits, in a sense, to ensure there is “truth” in who we (the brand) see them as. In a way, they could be maneuvering their digital footpath in a way that is the truth they want us to see. Crazy, but I digress.
Let’s add into this thought-bubble how consumers are relating to brands in general today. We know that consumer trust in brands is falling (Zeitgeist 2019. Gartner Iconoculture. November 27, 2018). And it’s falling significantly for big brands. In 2016, 65% of consumers (15+) said they trust big brands and are confident that they are reliable and competent. In 2018, that number had fallen to 53%. Now, consumer trust is falling across many categories. But big brands are losing to a greater degree.
So what are we to do, as brands?
How can we regain that trust we’re losing?
Maybe we should look at our brand truth more closely. Maybe we need to take a fresh, outside-in view of who we are as a brand. What actions are we taking in the products and services we provide? What experience is the consumer having with our brand? How are we ensuring that our footprint is accurately reflecting who we think we are as a brand, our brand “truth”? Maybe we need to take a page from the consumer playbook (again), and learn from these savvy consumers who are at the forefront of understanding marketing and the role they actively play in shaping what we as brands know about them.
Furthermore, consumers seem to expect us to do this. They expect us to define ourselves, as brands, through the actions we’re taking. In a recent survey, we learned that 70% of consumers expect brands to take positions on social issues that are being debated at large, particularly if they are relevant to their business (Gartner 2018 Optimizing Communications for Changing Stakeholder Expectations Survey). For ages, brands have sought opportunities in sponsorships and events to improve the image consumers have of us, adding credibility to a position we’ve staked out.
But this is going further. It seems like we’re in a pivotal moment, where consumers better understand what we as brands know and how we know it. They want to have a part in painting that portrait to better reflect their own “truth”, while they also expect us as brands to paint a more realistic portrait of who we are. Not just in our words, not just in our well-crafted messages and impactful media tactics, but in all that we do as we interact with the world. How charitable are we? What organizations do we give to? How involved are we locally? What position did we take on a relevant issue? Furthermore, what didn’t we say or do?
In marketing, we have found ourselves chasing after the consumer for years now. We pick up on their trends and lingo and parrot it back. We scour the streets and digital communities to know what’s trending so that we can create campaigns that will resonate.
Now just might be the time for us, as brands, to put renewed energy towards understanding the “truth” we’re putting out there, as a first step towards regaining that decrease in consumer’s trust of brands.
If we naval gaze and reflect upon our words and deeds as brands, is the image we’re creating an accurate portrait of our brand truth?