Brand Trust in the US May Hit Rock Bottom, So Be Authentic

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse. We may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse.

First, America’s air safety has been put into serious doubt due to delayed action regarding the Boeing 737 MAX ­and its potentially fatal programming. Then, we have reports that the rich and powerful have been bribing the pathway into America’s elite schools for their presumably unqualified kids.

While these news events seem unrelated, I believe they are pivotal events that will drive brand trust to near death levels in the U.S. Granted, brand trust has been on the decline for years, but we may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

How regulators and the airline industry dealt with 737 MAX safety issues is unfolding into a major fiasco. Most countries quickly recognized a pattern after a second 737 MAX plane crashed this month, and they quickly banned the plane from flying in their airspace. The FAA (the U.S.’s air safety regulator) provided Boeing the benefit of the doubt and continued to permit 737 MAX use for several days. Now, the FAA will be fighting the perception (or reality) that it was more interested in protecting Boeing and airlines than it was in protecting the public. On top of that, while the FAA dithered, some airlines made it difficult to cancel or change flights for passengers who, rightfully, no longer wished to fly on the 737 MAX.

If you think the brand trust deficit has been fueled by companies playing lose with customer data, playing loose with customer lives (or the perception of doing so) will be rocket fuel for said deficit.

While consumers ponder how much their lives are worth to regulators and the airline industry, for the vast majority, we found that elite university brands don’t believe we are worth enough to get into their colleges. News that the notoriously difficult and stressful college admissions process can be bypassed by those with the means to provide hefty bribes is retrospectively unsurprising and yet still shocking. Despite the pretentious branding, most everyone trusted that admission to an elite school meant that you were smart and worked hard. That brand trust has been diminished, and more stories of corruption in higher education are likely forthcoming.

What All of This Means for Other Brands

The sad reality is even if your company has not faced negative news, it is impacted — because the default level of brand trust is perhaps the lowest it’s ever been. The “2018 Edelman Trust Barometer” report (opens as a PDF) shows that the decline in U.S. of brand trust has been dramatic from 2017 to 2018 and can only be described as a “crash.” For 2018, among informed consumers, the U.S. ranks dead last in brand trust among 28 major economies (it was sixth place in 2017). Add recent news events and you can image where brand trust might be today. What makes these news events pivotal isn’t their transparent disregard for public trust, but that they involve historically trusted institutions. The FAA has been the reason we are willing to fly new airlines with no safety histories. As for colleges, we trust them with our still-developing young adults and pay ridiculously large sums to them to educate them. If we can no longer trust these institutions, then trust is in crisis.

The Brand Trust Solution

To address the growing trust deficit, it is unlikely more advertising or better content will be sufficient. Companies must learn to be authentic. Authenticity, however, can be very difficult to achieve and only comes together when the whole organization rallies around the brand purpose and the value propositions made to its customers.

Authenticity means saying what you will do, doing what you say and showing that you mean it. And American consumers desperately need it.

Listen to Tyler Oakley: Dare to Be You

During this year’s &THEN event in LA I got to see Tyler Oakley — one of my video inspirations — speak and explain the intimate connection viewers and vloggers can have, especially when the video maker makes regular lasting connections with their audience. But you don’t have to be a YouTube star to do this!

This past week I was in LA with some of the Target Marketing team for DMA’s &THEN conference and wow … it was a whirlwind 3 days.

Not-so-fresh off my red eye flight, I have several blog posts started and even more notes to shape up, but what I want to share with you this week is a realization I had during the Tuesday morning inspirational keynote featuring Beau Avril of Google Preferred, Dan Weinstein of Collective Digital Studio, and Tyler Oakley, Youtube personality, author, and activist.

When introducing Tyler, they showed this quick clip about #DaretoBeYou, which he launched in late 2015:

And that’s when it hit me:

Tyler Oakley Dare to be YouDuring the keynote, titled “The New Face of Creativity,” Tyler made an interesting point about YouTube videos and vloggers in general. He explained that the level of intimacy between viewers and the YouTubers/vloggers is heightened because it’s them watching on a screen, usually closer to the body than a TV or movie screen.

Tyler likened it to Facetiming, and explained how many viewers consider YouTube personalities to be like friends — they share personal stories and make connections.

But you don’t have to be a YouTube personality to do this.

Since launching Sass Marketing a little over a year ago and “What Were They Thinking?” less than five months ago, you’ve tuned in, watched and hopefully laughed at my antics. Or maybe shook your fist at your screen when I said something you didn’t agree with.

My favorite reaction, though, is when you take the time to leave a comment, write me an email or share a tweet telling me exactly what you think of this series.

Or in the case of this past week, came up to me during &THEN and simply said, “I love your videos.”

This reminds me that I made the right decision to be myself — loud, sassy with eyerolls to spare — or as Tyler says, “dare to be you.” Sass Marketing/What Were They Thinking isn’t just an act I put on … it’s me, and it’s more myself than some of the work I’ve done in the past, but that’s partly because I was still finding who I am in all of this.

I’m fortunate that I have this space in the marketing world to do this, the support from my colleagues and mostly importantly, you.

Tyler Oakley You Dare to Be YouI’ll continue to dare to be me in order to delight you and make you laugh, but I need you to dare to be you. A world of people being their genuine, true selves is a world of beauty and limitless possibility.

 

Ground Your Brand

Do your brand values come from a strategic decision, or an organic statement of who you are and what you do? More and more, social media is proving that it should be the latter. The slippery impression of authenticity has a huge impact on how your target market and customers think of you. That’s why it’s time to ground your brand.

Do your brand values come from a strategic decision, or an organic statement of who you are and what you do? More and more, social media is proving that it should be the latter. The slippery impression of authenticity has a huge impact on how your target market and customers think of you. That’s why it’s time to ground your brand.

An Authentic Buzzword

I was at the Financial Times Future of Marketing event in New York City yesterday, where I got to hear many brands and agencies talk about various aspects of the future and present of marketing.

Anyone who’s been to a conference knows they’re the places buzzwords hatch, grow up and breed. And the buzzword I heard most yesterday was “authenticity.”

And the best articulation of it was the need to “ground your brand.”

“Every company right now, the one takeaway is ‘ground your brand’,” said Suzy Deering, CMO North America, eBay. “If you can’t stand for who you are; not change who you are but evolve who you are,” it’s going to show.”

(Note: I took these quotes live, so please forgive any slight discrepancies with other outlets.)

“I think we’ve absolutely bathed ourselves in complexity and acronyms for years,” said Hannah Grove, EVP and CMO of Boston-based financial services holding company State Street. “At State Street, we’ve really tried to break down the acronyms and just communicate.”

“We have to force ourselves as marketers to come back to the human question,” said Eric Reynolds, CMO, Clorox. This dictum forces Clorox to look at consumers not as consumers, but as people, which helps Reynolds and his team think of about what resonates with them as people.

How to Ground Your Brand

“Authenticity is a word people throw around that is very. Very hard to get right,” said Carter Murray, CEO of FCB.” And the thing about Social Media is you have to be true to who you are and what yo do, or you absolutely get eaten alive on social media.”

That’s where the usual discussion of authenticity and grounding your brand diverge. The key is getting down to the values and beliefs that are core to who you are as a company, and lining behind them.

It’s always the same question: “What business are we in, and what do we do every single day that is important?,” said Murray.

Murray was presenting with Reynolds, and spoke about the many companies, following the lead of successful mission-driven organizations like Tom’s Shoes, launch into  their own missions. But those missions don’t always resonate.

“I see people trying to invent meaning,” said Reynolds, “and if we’re not careful, more and more consumers will say, ‘Are those the values I really share? Are they just saying what they think I want them to say?’”

My Time With ‘The Greatest’ – A Lesson in Authenticity

In 1986, I was doing TV lead generation for a Medicare Supplement brand when a gift fell into my lap. Muhammad Ali had purchased our Med Supp product for his parents, and was open to our overtures to endorse the brand.

Target Marketing Blogger Chuck McLeester with Muhammad Ali in 1986.
Target Marketing Blogger Chuck McLeester with Muhammad Ali in 1986.

In 1986, I was doing TV lead generation for a Medicare Supplement brand when a gift fell into my lap. Muhammad Ali had purchased our Med Supp product for his parents, and was open to our overtures to endorse the brand.

WOW! We were going to make a TV commercial with “The Greatest” and I would be spending two days on the set with him and his parents, Cassius and Odessa Clay.

It was a beautiful day on location at a classic Southern-style home in Maryland with a wrap-around porch. At that time, the Champ could barely speak, and he didn’t really try to. Nor did he have to. His presence was overwhelming, his demeanor calm and confident, and the look in his eyes communicated nothing but warmth and kindness. He managed to muster enough control to say his one line at the end of the spot, but his mother, Mrs. Clay, did all the heavy lifting with the script.

Mr. and Mrs. Clay sat together on the porch while Mrs. Clay recited a classic DRTV script: Call out to the audience, present the problem/solution, and deliver a call to action. Cassius Clay Sr., who was not as smooth-spoken as his wife Odessa Clay, nodded in agreement.

All the while, Mr. Ali entertained the crew with his magic tricks and other antics, and he delighted some local children who had stopped by to view the spectacle, giving them his undivided attention until he retreated for his prayer time.

His demeanor bore little resemblance to the brash young fighter taunting his opponents with poetic bluster. Or to the man who was one of the most polarizing figures in America during a politically tumultuous era, denouncing the war in Vietnam, embracing the Muslim religion and changing his name to the one that we associate with the man who was the most recognizable person on the planet.

During that time, I was learning a lot about direct response marketing – grinding through the nitty gritty of maximizing lead volume within an allowable acquisition cost and testing ways to improve lead conversion. I don’t think I was conscious of the fact that I was a witness to one of the most amazing evolutions of a personal brand — ever.

After he lost his boxing license for three years over his refusal to be inducted into the army, he reclaimed the heavyweight championship, was exonerated as a conscientious objector, fought in the ring until 1981, and then became an ambassador for peace and tolerance. In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. It’s the highest civilian award in the United States.

Throughout his evolution, Ali never strayed from his core principles: fairness, self-confidence, hard work, determination, persistence and most importantly, authenticity.

These core principles were the essence of his brand and he embraced them throughout every stage of his life. That’s how it’s done.

Rest in Peace, Champ!

Direct Mail Marketing to Millennials – 5 Tips

Millennials will have a cumulative $1.4 trillion in spending power by 2020. Because they are known as digital natives, many people thought direct mail was a bad way to reach them. However, this has shown itself to be untrue: Millennials like getting mail!

Marketing to MillennialsMarketers are really starting to look at how millennials respond to marketing. In a recent study conducted by DigitasLBi, Razorfish, Tumblr and Yahoo, millennials will have a cumulative $1.4 trillion in spending power by 2020. Therefore, marketers need to pay attention to this group of people.

Because millennials are known as digital natives, many people thought direct mail was a bad way to reach them. However, this has shown itself to be untrue: Millennials like getting mail!

How can direct mail appeal to millennials?

  1. Authenticity: All the messaging and imagery on your direct mail pieces need to be authentic and in sync with your brand. Show that you are consistent, responsible and transparent. Provide links to access more information about your company. Show your passion not only for what you do but the people in your organization that do it.
  2. Accessibility: How easy is it for someone to reach you? How many ways to respond to your direct mail are there? If they call you will they reach a human or an auto attendant? The easier it is to respond the more responses you are going to get.
  3. Human Appeal: Create a sense of connection with each individual, not only with personalization but through emotion. Highlight real people in your organization who are doing good things and remember to use a picture. When you humanize your brand you have a greater appeal.
  4. Social Awareness: Showcase all the good things your company is doing for social causes. This goes beyond just donating money, which is seen as a token gesture. How are your employees giving back? Pick Charites that are in sync with your brand or that you and your employees feel very deeply about. Then tell everyone about the great things you are doing!
  5. Technology: Since this group is very digital savvy, make sure that you are including technology in your direct mail. Not just QR codes, but more powerful NFC, augmented reality and more. Direct mail is a great gateway to online content and mobile devices. Millennials like interactive experiences, so give them that experience generated from your direct mail. Remember, they love to share good experiences with friends!

Millennials are great people! Targeting them with direct mail is not as big of a challenge as some people try to make it. Using the five techniques above will help you effectively communicate with and sell to millennials. Your direct mail should be inclusive and informative, not pushy. Keep you calls to action very specific with easy-to-understand benefits. Millennials view direct mail as more trustworthy than electronic communication, so make sure to capitalize on that!

Providing an excellent user experience across multiple channels is required with this target group. Embrace that and create fun, engaging direct mail that moves recipients online to landing pages, social media or whatever content you want. As always, make sure to track your responses so that you know what is working and what is not. Lastly, keep in mind that all millennials are not the same, they are individuals just like the rest of us and have varying wants and needs. Capturing their response information and adding that to your database is valuable. It will allow you to provide better offers to them in the future.

Ford Cuts the BS and Focuses on Trust

In my opinion, the quickest way to customers’ hearts — and wallets — is to be authentic. Partnering with Pitchfork Media, Ford has created a series of Web videos in which female artists, like Elle King and Betty Who, get together and have honest conversations about what’s important to them … while driving around in a Ford Focus.

Elle King and Betty Who In FocusA couple of weeks ago, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across a “Suggested Post” from Ford featuring a video of Elle King and Betty Who. I’m a fan of Elle, so I stopped scrolling and watched, despite my usual disdain for all things “suggested” on social.

The video is just under three minutes, and these two female musicians discuss things near and dear to my heart: body image issues and body positivity, being authentic and creative, pushing the limits that people set for you as a woman. I watched the entire thing, realizing that, yes, Elle and Betty are driving around Brooklyn in a Ford Focus, but the car is not the focus (pun intended) of the video.

Instead, it’s these two bright, talented, articulate women talking about life, talking about issues that I deal with, too. And what kept me watching was the conversation they were having … an honest conversation between two friends. I loved it.

https://youtu.be/yc3yhpDFl8s

It’s not until 2:41 in the video that you see the words “Ford Focus” come onto the screen. Then there’s a quick shot of the traditional Ford logo, followed by Elle mentioning that if you want to listen to the entire conversation (yes, they recorded a fabulous 20 minutes!), go to infocus.pitchfork.com.

By 2:50, there’s about 9 seconds of video of a gentleman telling Betty, still in the driver’s seat, about the assisted backup camera in the car. But that’s it.

Ford used 9-10 seconds of a 2 minute and 59 second video for its product, and left the remaining 95 percent of the video in the hands of Elle and Betty.

Better yet, here are some of the Facebook shares I found of this video:

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 9.59.43 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 9.59.23 AMNow, are these people talking about how they want to go out and buy a Ford Focus? No, and that’s ok. They’re talking about Elle and Betty’s conversation, about how much they like the musicians.

What Ford did right here was to partner with Pitchfork, a Chicago-based online publication know for its coverage of indie music. Pitchfork was able to make the connections with the musicians, Ford provided the cars, and the end result is some really stellar content marketing.

I can’t say whether or not this will help sell cars, but so far there are three episodes, all with this focus:

We’re in an unprecedented era of female artistry — women are changing the landscape in music, art, literature, and more. In Focus brings together two brilliant female artists to share their experiences, get to know each other, and honestly discuss all the things that are important to them.

These videos will attract a female audience; they will possibly help Ford earn the trust of this audience; and if nothing else it will get people talking. I know I have been … aside from this post, I’ve already mentioned the Elle and Betty video to several of my female friends.

Good job Ford and Pitchfork. You know who you’re trying to reach, you’re giving me content I care about — from people I admire — and you’re not trying to cram in a hard sell for your car.

Oh, and it helps that your website is pretty freaking gorgeous.

Now, in comparison, you have the Matthew McConaughey ads for Lincoln … and the ridiculously funny spoof ads from SNL.

https://youtu.be/NcGhLcVqxf0

Needless to say, if SNL is spoofing you, there might be a problem. And for Lincoln, the bigger question is how do you expect to make an honest connection?

If It Has Wheels, It’s Not a Hoverboard: A Study in Authenticity

That’s right. Tomorrow is “Back to the Future Day,” Oct. 21, 2015. The date Dr. Emmett Brown and Marty McFly travel to at the end of the 1985 beloved hit, Back to the Future (which then kicks off the 1989 sequel, Back to the Future Part II).

Let’s get this out of the way real quick.

This is Not a Hoverboard

That is an electric self-balancing scooter. Not a hoverboard from the Back to the Future franchise. Hoverboards don’t have wheels. They hover. Great, glad we had this talk.

Back to the Future

Tomorrow is “Back to the Future Day,” Oct. 21, 2015. The date Dr. Emmett Brown and Marty McFly travel to at the end of the 1985 hit, Back to the Future (which then kicks off the 1989 sequel, Back to the Future Part II).

As a child of the 80s, Back to the Future was one of my favorite movies. My family had the soundtrack — on a cassette tape! — and I vaguely remember having my first girlish crush on cutie Michael J. Fox. Thirty years have passed, and yet people are still wild about the movie.

I knew I wanted to write about Back to the Future because the timing is prime. But I was stumped on how to tie in the cult classic to marketing. Googling the term “Back to the Future Marketing” nets 525 million results.

Great Scott!

Those results include everything from a Hubspot infographic looking at the accuracy of the movie’s future predictions to articles and blog posts often using the phrase “Back to the Future” in the headline, but weakly delivering once you’re there (Bad Marketers! Bad!).

If you drop the word “marketing” from your search, you net 1.66 billion results.

Doc Brown These results include everything from local movie times for the special showing on Back to the Future Day to IMDB results, articles from popular consumer sites about what the movie got right about 2015, as well as plenty of Facebook Events for parties. Oh, and this Toyota commercial.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVebChGtLlY

Looking at all this, and my own fandom, I had a realization: Back to the Future was a success in 1985 — being the top grossing film of the year — and continues to be a success because it’s authentic. Not in the sense of getting predictions right, but because everyone working on the film knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing, and when needed, weren’t afraid to say “no” and make better decisions.

Perfect example: Michael J. Fox was the first choice for the role of Marty McFly, but Family Ties Producer Gary David Goldberg would not give him time off to work on the film. Instead, Eric Stoltz was cast as McFly. Four weeks into shooting, Director Robert Zemeckis knew the fit wasn’t right. So what did he do? Released Stoltz (who also felt he wasn’t delivering the kind of Marty Zemeckis was looking for) and approached Fox and Goldberg again. This time, scheduling was possible for Fox, and he took the role.

This added $3 million to $14 million budget, but since the film grossed $389.1 million worldwide, I’d say the decision was worth it.

As Marty says, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” If marketers are willing to make tough decisions, stay authentic to who they are, and can say “no” in some of the toughest moments, then they will set themselves up for success. Just as the Godfather of Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi says, “Be authentic.”

Side note: I [gladly] re-watched Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II in preparation for writing this post, as well as listened to the soundtrack constantly. My colleagues most likely saw me bopping my head along to “The Power of Love,” and that’s okay.