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Artifacts: Being Trustworthy, Relevant and Anything but Average

By George Taliaferro

It’s hard to know who to trust out there. Disinformation isn’t simply weaponized, it’s monetized. For years, a variety of media sources have used “truth” not as a benchmark, but a matter of preference.

This obfuscation, and its consequences, has made consumers more jaded and justly interrogative than ever. The latest data from Edelman suggests that brands have a great opportunity to be that source of truth and honesty consumers demand. 

 

“Employers not only have a new mandate to speak up on critical issues both inside and outside their organizations, but they must also go beyond to become a media source of trusted information to a wide range of stakeholders…”

 

2020 had us reevaluating our norms. And now, our “new normal” (sorry) is being shaped less by what you promise, and more by who you really are. Consumers are assessing your values, the commitment to them, and how many they share as a means to earn their trust. They see brands as people — flawed, complex, and ever-changing, but seeking to advance the greater good. Consumers don’t want brands to return to “normal.” They want you to use your resources to be better; to make us all better; to acknowledge the truth even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard. Trust will be earned by making progress in a different world and bringing consumers with you. 

In a 2011 TED Talk, Psychologist Shawn Anchor discussed the potential of positive psychology and why looking at the “average” in data tells a limiting story:

“…If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average.” Anchor summarizes that the key is studying the outliers, both positive and negative, so that we can continue to move upwards. Because it’s what’s happening at the fringes that present the threats and opportunities.

The fringe is where disinformation used to live, until it didn’t. It’s time we pay more attention. 

 

That same process presents brand opportunities in your messaging. Instead of creating an “average” pandemic statement that treads the water we’re already in, embrace a unique challenge or perspective that you can honestly address and use that to elevate a message that builds consumer trust. Brands like Anheuser-Busch, McDonalds and WarnerMedia showcase three unique approaches to this challenge on a sliding scale between relevancy, seamless simplicity and industry shift.

Photo Credit: Budweiser

Relevancy

Budweiser definitely turned some heads when they announced that for the first time in 37 years, they would not air a commercial during the Super Bowl. Instead, they opted to use this unusual time to donate a portion of their marketing budget to the Ad Council’s Covid-19 Vaccine campaign. For a brand synonymous with football’s climactic finale, Budweiser acknowledged that right now, we’re in the climactic finale of this pandemic. Vaccines are our best chance to finally get Covid under control. For Budweiser, and their consumers, that’s the bigger game. However, this doesn’t have to be zero sum. Your brand can serve others and itself. While there were no Clydesdales this year, Budweiser and all the other Anheuser-Busch brands were still featured heavily in the big game, including a 90-second flagship spot.

 

Our takeaway: There’s a sweet spot between consumer values and your brand values. Budweiser mastered it with a strategic sales tactic and a value message that was appropriate and relevant.

Photo Credit: Mcdonalds

Seamless Simplicity 

In Spain, McDonald’s noticed the massive financial hardship placed on farmers during the pandemic. Working alongside its agency partner, they created the “Big Good” burger, made with ingredients sourced directly from Spanish farms. This approach showcases McDonald’s commitment to local communities and highlights that a global food franchise built on replication can still change its operations to help a specific region. It also gives their consumers a feel good reason to continue enjoying their favorite fast food chain without disrupting their experience. 

Our takeaway: Creating trust is your responsibility, not your consumers. 

Photo Credit: Dasril Roszandi, Nurphoto/Getty

Industry Shift

With movie theaters struggling, WarnerMedia decided to release all of its 2021 movies to its HBO Max streaming platform in advance to a theatrical release. While this lends itself to a short-term benefit of increasing new subscriptions to the streaming service, the long-term consequences are blurrier. Warner’s move angered big name talent whose films bring in substantial revenue for the studio. But Warner looked beyond profits in its traditional model to acknowledge that the industry has been invaded by new players who are less concerned with business-as-usual. These content-delivery models have changed the industry in ways consumers aren’t exactly upset over. Cinema is shifting for everyone, talent included. Consumers were choosing their couch to the theater well before Covid. WarnerMedia’s decision could be seen as reactionary to the toll Covid has taken on theaters, but subscription models are gaining favor with consumers everywhere, not just in entertainment. Warner might be reacting to Covid, but they also might wisely be using crisis as an opportunity to align with the future.

Our takeaway: While industry norms matter, shifting consumer values can present your brand with difficult, but transformative choices that position your business at the forefront of what you believe the future will be. 

 

Either directly or indirectly, these approaches show an awareness that the world is changing for businesses, consumers and daily life. And in times of change, people crave things they can trust. Brands need to consider what makes them trustworthy. How can you honestly meet your consumers’ needs in a completely different world? Maybe it’s an act of kindness based on shared values. It could be a unique sales tactic or approach that’s genuine to the people you serve. It might even mean agitating industry reliances for what you believe your consumers want. Whatever your brand does, just know, people are counting on you.

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