Which brands do you really care about? Is there one you simply couldn’t do without? It’s a question that we rarely ask — so prevalent and dominant are companies and brands in our everyday lives. But while we’re dependent on the products and services that enable our modern existence, do we really care who makes them?
The history of consumer culture is littered with once-dominant consumer brands that were replaced by newer, more relevant offerings. Today, in the Internet age, the shelf life of major brands is shorter than ever before. Consider powerful brands such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: None of these existed 15 years ago. Would you like to bet they will be around 10 years from now?
Why should anyone have faith in your brand? That’s a question every company should be asking itself right now. That’s because, on top of the competitive pressures all companies are feeling in this digital age, they increasingly find themselves affected by the crisis of trust that is impacting and undermining every part of global society.
Social media sits at the heart of this erosion in confidence. Time and time again over the last 15 or so years, social media-connected communities and platforms have called out companies and brands about faulty products, rotten or cynical customer services and arrogant governance. Yet, even as social media has helped give people a clearer, more informed view of the world around them, it has also been manipulated to confuse and distort people’s sense of reality.
How then can companies win back the trust of the public and society so they can ensure they don’t disappear like so many brands in the past?
That is the subject of my new book, Trust Inc: How Business Gains Respect in a Social Media Age. It draws on 15 years’ experience writing and consulting about the growth of social media and the development of sustainability in business. My conclusion is that the only possible way companies can stay relevant is by demonstrating to consumers and the general public that they can help meet and solve the social and environmental challenges of our age.
Climate change. Resource scarcity. Racial and gender inequality. The rush to the cities. Mindboggling technological change. Companies find themselves on the front line facing these mega challenges, and they already know that how they respond to them will directly affect how they flourish or perish in the near future.
Here’s the good news for those companies committed to sustainability: Consumers care just as much about these issues as you do. Indeed, the actions of concerned (and social media-connected) consumers already are having an impact. They are prompting fast-food companies to change their menus. They are pushing household and personal goods manufacturers to use non-toxic components in cleaning products. And they are holding apparel makers to account over working conditions in their factories and those of their suppliers.
All of these issues sit at the heart of sustainability in business and influence people’s buying decisions. It’s just when real people talk about them, they don’t use the language of corporate sustainability.
At the heart of any company’s attempt to win society’s trust is transparent sustainability communication. As I document in the book through more than 100 brand examples and interviews with major figures in corporate sustainability and communication, companies will win back that trust by embracing the following practices:
- Collaboration with communities
- Radical transparency about sourcing, working practices and supply chain
- Empowerment and education both inside and outside the organization
- Real leadership that places long-term value over short-term returns
- Inspiring behavior change to build a sustainable consumer market
By committing to tackling the world’s greatest challenges, and by demonstrating the work they are doing through authentic communication and marketing, companies can prove their value to society, rebuild the trust in business that has been lost and ensure they are building a brand that people will care about. Those that don’t will not only fail society — they will fail as a business.