How Brands Can Compete In A Polarized World

Chris WrenFebruary 8, 20186984 min

One of the more insightful reports to come out every year is Edelman’s Trust Barometer. In 2018 people’s trust (or more appropriately distrust) in business, government, NGOs and media remained largely unchanged from last year. 20 of 28 markets surveyed are now in distruster range, up one from last year. Yet the report highlights dramatic shifts are taking place at the market level and within the institution of media.

In previous years, market-level trust correlated similarly around the world, but for the first time ever there is now a distinct split between extreme trust gainers and losers. At the losing end, no market saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. But at the other end, China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other market.

Fake news and false information being used as a weapon has seven in ten respondents worried. 59 percent say that it is getting harder to tell if a piece of news was produced by a respected media organization. And there are plenty of programmatic and sponsored content providers that sell tactics that are designed to blend in as much as possible with native or publisher platforms!

So, it’s no surprise trust in media is at an all-time low, but even then, the definition of what ‘media’ is differs widely. Some people consider platforms to be part of “the media” — including social media (48 percent) and search engines (25 percent) — alongside journalism (89 percent), which includes publishers and news organizations.

Marketers don’t have it easy right now. Accelerating change is happening globally, but around the world, markets differ in how much they trust the information they get. Established global brands are usually very competent when it comes to cultural nuances of the different markets in which they play. But in these highly polarized times, the communication strategies themselves will need to focus on differing subjects depending on what the trust climate reveals.

Here are five key insights for competing in a polarized world.

In All Markets:

1. Use voices of authority. While last year, a ‘person like yourself’ was among the most trusted sources of information, that position has since been (thankfully) reclaimed by field-leaders with technical experts, financial industry analysts, and successful entrepreneurs now registering credibility levels of 50 percent or higher. Journalists saw a 12 point increase and CEOs a seven point increase since 2017.

What this means for brands: Leverage voices of authority to carry the message in the most direct, unfiltered way possible. Marketing should include some objective analysis in materials. Work with experts, and cite sources for big claims. Be sure customers have a way to validate for themselves if experts (or expert citations) are credible.

2. Business is expected to lead. We’ve discussed the crisis of credibility and leadership that’s plaguing the world numerous times here on Branding Strategy Insider. But in 2018, the expectations are falling on CEOs at a time when their credibility is on the rise. 64% say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.

What this means for brands: Don’t miss an incredible opportunity to show off your best leadership, but resist the temptation to show off too much or virtue-signal around contentious issues. Focus the message around what the brand is doing to lift their customers up, build better communities or empower and care for their employees. And be prepared to commit long-term and show consistency. In the US, Microsoft has held an unswerving position on immigration issues that are supported by regular communications from the CEO, Chief Legal Counsel, and other senior leaders.

3. In countries with trust gains (China, UAE, South Korea), continue to drive smart growth. Focus on internal investment in jobs, train workers so they are competitive and have the skills needed to innovate. Bolster that trust by improving the general quality of life for everyone, especially entities which interact with the brand including customers, employees and those in the supply chain.

4. In countries with typical changes in trust (Russia, Mexico, UK, Japan) focus on prosperity and opportunity. Job investment is still important, but so is equal opportunity and economic prosperity that demonstrates future generations will be helped. Keep an eye on safeguarding privacy as it will only take one scandal to cause loss of trust in these markets.

5. In countries with extreme trust losses (USA, India, Columbia, Brazil), ensure that information is high-quality and privacy is safeguarded. Some marketers and publishers may need to re-think tactics and approach. Over-targeting and surveillance marketing have polluted our discipline. Content marketers may want to evaluate whether or not using syndicated content and native advertising border on misleading. Europe is rolling out the GPDR to put boundaries around how much can be done with an individual’s private data while allowing each individual to own their data, which is perhaps a model all nations will be soon following.

Brands continue to have ample opportunity to fill the leadership void around the world through a human-centric approach built on credibility and trust.

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our brand community and brand culture workshops.

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