Populism. Post-truth. Fake news. What’s real and what’s an opinion these days? And how much weight does either now carry? In a world where a fact is refuted in favour of something alternative that sounds a bit better, how do you, as a brand, mark yourself out as genuine?
This is the conundrum being considered by independent, global consumer insights analyst TrendWatching. Its new report TrendWatching Quaterly, entitled Truthful Consumerism, looks at the future of consumerism and the pressures of brand reputation in a ‘post-truth’ society.
“Societies feel more polarised than ever and the commentary has been endless,” TrendWatching lead writer David Mattin tells us. “We were interested in what all this means for the future of business and consumerism. It is clearly a volatile environment for brands, so how can they thrive in this new moment?”
The future of consumerism and the pressures of brand reputation in a polarised, ‘post-truth’ society
David is TrendWatching’s Global Head of Trends & Insights, who speaks regularly at high-profile conferences around the world, including The Next Web 2016, the 15 Seconds Festival and NEXT Conference.
Trust and content
In the content marketplace, trust is the currency that changes hands. If the consumer can’t trust the branded content that they are presented with, then it serves no purpose. It’s just noise – a business story told for the sake of it. If I don’t trust what a brand tells me, why would I be inclined to engage with it or buy anything?
Now, it’s easy to be truthful; funnily enough you stick to the facts. But if you inhabit a world that casts doubt on even that, things start to get difficult. TrendWatching says that as of the beginning of 2017, trust in major institutions – in governments, in the media and in businesses – is “falling to all-time lows”.
If ever there was a time for proving your power as a brand, now is a unique chance to show it off
This polarisation stirs up considerable anger on both sides of play, and creating a counter narrative that is rooted in the truth is getting harder and harder.
Look at taxi app giant Uber and the issues surrounding Donald Trump’s so-called ‘travel ban’; the #deleteUber hashtag prompted people to ditch 200,000 accounts. Even Uber’s President Jeff Jones quit late last week, allegedly felled by the recent furore.
Creating a counter narrative that is rooted in the truth is getting harder and harder
Or how about Budweiser, which rebranded as ‘America’ during the 2016 US presidential election, only to then enrage Trump supporters when it aired a Superbowl TV ad with a pro-immigration message?
I mean, what does it say about the power of post-truth when one of the nation’s favourite beers manages to infuriate a chunk of its audience? Don’t forget this was the Superbowl; they were probably drinking a Bud at exactly the time the advert aired. How many flat screen TVs were drenched that day?
Still, as with every obstacle, the savvy amongst you have an opportunity to make your mark and stand out. You just need a bit of a strategy for telling the truth. Which is a weird thing to have to think about, but there we go.
If ever there was a time for proving your power as a brand, now is a unique chance to show it off in your content and be noticed.
You have an opportunity to make your mark and stand out
While there are many socioeconomic divisions across society that exacerbated the post-truth era, TrendWatching Quarterly identifies five things that will inevitably continue to drive progress, regardless of what Donald Trump’s last 3am tweet might infer. TrendWatching calls them its five ‘truths’ – which very much nails your colours to the mast – and if brands want to get ahead, they should start by getting with these.
David Mattin says: “What drove us towards our answer is that the big, powerful forces shaping the future remain as relevant as ever. Brands that ground their innovation in one or more of those forces will be on a terrain that is meaningful and lasting, building a brighter future for all of us and for themselves.”
The future is transparency
Firstly, we must realise that about 50% of humans own a smartphone and, therefore, half the world expects to have access to everything there is to know about you. As such, being open about your company culture and brand values, being generous with the access the public has to you and your information, being warm and genuine with your tone, marks you as real. The inner gears of your business are not under the hood any longer; they’re public property. Treat them as you would any other marketable asset and find something uniquely brilliant about them. Be open about your sustainability accountability with the same adherence to profit and loss as your monetary accounts. Remove any barriers you can find to visibility.
The future is aspiration
Status has of course been amplified by social media. State leaders and celebrities aren’t the only ones with a platform to boast. So too do we, the commoners, have our chance to up-sell our lives. But aspiration doesn’t just have to be a window into the Kardashians’ next barbecue. It can be a force for greatness when it comes to business. If achievement is a currency, then focus on innovation and your propensity for mindfulness. Show yourself to be the game changer you aspire to, such as being a pioneer in the use of virtual reality or the internet of things.
The future is positive impact
Fuelled by a need for more transparency, TrendWatching finds that there is ‘guilt spiral’ occurring amongst us, as we feel more and more guilty about our habits of consumption, which are harder and harder to ignore in our hyper-connected world. Meanwhile a majority of consumers actively disengage from companies that show a negative environmental or social impact. So counteract that narrative; embed these kinds of values into your company story from the start. TrendWatching cites an example in Adidas, which has pledged to manufacture one million pairs of trainers this year with recycled ocean plastic, with aspirations to eliminate non-recycled plastic from its supply chain.
The future is tolerance
Higher connectivity, better education worldwide, and rapid urbanisation are all contributors to better tolerance, despite any divisive rhetoric we might encounter. And this is a truthful and honest selling point for brands. TrendWatching mentions AirBnB, which offered free accommodation to those affected by travel restrictions that were placed on refugees and immigrants by Donald Trump’s executive order. I can’t tell you what their uplift in sales was but CEO Brian Chesky’s original tweet was favourited a whopping 196,000 times and retweeted 115,000 times within a matter of hours. Other Silicon Valley bosses like Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella made similarly supportive public statements.
The future is empowerment
Empowerment is more of an ‘all of the above’ kind of situation. Where you display the values of transparency, aspiration, positivity and tolerance, show that you empower these values in others – that you’re helping them to take similar control of their lives and actions – and build that empowerment into your brand story.
We live in a time where trust is compounded by a counter-narrative to what is true. The only way to build trust into your narrative is to show yourself genuinely and openly. That isn’t just a nice moral standpoint; it’s also good for business.