Earning Trust

There has been a development in the “what lies at the heart of marketing’ zeitgeist over the many decades since marketing began – which as we know was long before it was actually called marketing. It started with trust. You branded something (literally in the case of cattle) with your signature, a logo or name, so people could recognize it as the one they knew and trusted because, and this will never change, people don’t trust what they don’t know in everything except religion.

I won’t go through all the various marketing zeitgeists – I am not old enough to have experienced all of them first hand and too old to recall the ones I did with any accuracy. So let me just pick out a few. When brands became disintermediated – e.g. you chose them yourself off a super-market shelf rather than had them commended to you by a shop –keeper – USP became quite popular. Marketing was all about creating a unique point of difference. Somewhere along the line it broadened into a value proposition and this was believed to have some kind of emotional/functional ying and yang.

More recently, in the dawn of the “everything is a brand” age, we came to focus on the brand story and the brand ideals. The PR folk claimed this was good old reputation management but nobody listened to them because their ‘brand’ was somewhat tarnished by the likes of Max Clifford and Alastair Campbell.
I recall a brief rally around the idea of Love Brands. Marketing was all about delight and love and exceeding expectations. Hard to argue with that other than perhaps to point out that 99.999% of brands are picked through inertia, hunch and familiarity rather than love (as opposed to only 50% of life partners).
Right now I’d say engagement is the mot du jour. Marketing is all about creating engagement – less through didactic, interrupt and repeat marketing communication and more through what brands actually do and how it gets reported in social media. Earned media is brand engagement’s marketing pay-off.
What’s coming next? What is going to become the ‘focus of marketing’, the ‘when it boils down to it, this is what marketers really do’ consensus among the chattering marketing classes (who chatter quite a lot).

Might it come full circle back to trust? The focus of marketing – apart from getting more people to buy stuff more often for more money or perhaps as a means to this? – might become earning, sustaining and building trust in a world that is increasingly mistrustful, or to dig a little deeper, in a world where trust increasingly comes from ones large and growing social cohorts and decreasingly from just about everything else. You can’t trust anything or anybody these days.

Forget the establishment, the police and politicians, they are a complete busted flush pretty much worldwide. Celebrities lie like a cheap suit, some trusted family favourites have been revealed as kiddy-fiddlers. Every month brings some new story about drugs or corruption in sport. Newspapers have the morals of a gutter-snipe and the self-discipline of a recovering alcoholic in a brewery. BBC Director Generals resign having betrayed the trust of license fee payers. For goodness sake, even Tesco, the pinnacle of successful British Business, have been caught selling horsemeat in burgers (which as it happens means lots of young girls realized their secret dream of getting a Little Pony sadly without ever knowing it).

All around us trust is breaking down faster than Kate Winslett at an awards ceremony. You can trust what you read on Facebook or Twitter but very little else. Apart from, I would hope, your favourite brands if they are well managed by good marketers with good values and reflexes. (Regular readers will both know that this is a favourite theme of mine – good marketers have good reflexes).

Job one of a marketer is creating, deepening and widening trust. If I was running a large marketing department these days (unlikely I’ll grant you) I’d have that in a big sign above the coffee machine (or the Fusion Vendor). And when asked whether this is just a ‘point of parity’ rather than a ‘point of difference’ (assuming they were familiar with Kevin Keller’s simple but powerful positioning approach) I’d say point of difference. That is not because I am 100% sure it is, it may not be enough in itself to drive preference, but rather because a) it is more than enough to support inertia and b) if you get complacent and dismiss it as ‘housekeeping’ you risk losing it.

The challenge of being a Trust Manager not just a Brand Manager is that it has to be earned in lots of ways over a lot of time. It cannot be asserted. It requires that hardest of things, consistency, and this has to be maintained in a fast fragmenting and disenchanted world that pays more attention to the modern day equivalent of the ‘bloke down the pub’, i.e. social media, than anything else.

Trust me. I’m a Doctor. Well not since Jacko’s experience does that carry any weight. How about, trust me, I’m a Brand manager?

Management Speaks

Bear with me. Just take a few moments to read the piece below that popped up in my inbox this week.

“Dear Mr M Sherrington,

All of us at South African Airways (SAA) Voyager know that in this highly competitive travel industry, customer service alone no longer guarantees customer satisfaction. Modern advanced practices, such as customer experience and relationship management, have been adopted by many airlines across the world. These practices – which only a few years ago were largely considered mere concepts – have today become a requirement for customer retention programmes, and require superior technological systems and business processes as enablers.

Long-term relationships are of paramount importance to us, and we have acknowledged that by investing in a tool that will enable us to greatly enhance your experience in dealing with us, at all contact points, and not only the call centres. Enhancements such as these allow us to be effective and align ourselves with the best in classs.

Over the last few years the complaints, suggestions and survey feedback we have received from you – our valued members – have indicated that in order for us to exceed your expectations, information technology upgrade had become necessary. We have listened, and we are proud to announce that on 7 October 2012, SAA Voyager will be moving all business processes to a new, modern-technology customer relationship management (CRM) system.

When sourcing the new system the following specific objectives were top of mind: service speed, flexibility, accessibility, efficiency, increased value propositions and enhanced customer experience. We are, therefore, excited about the improvements that the new system brings about as indicated below:”

So let’s pick out the salient points.

The travel industry is highly competitive and great service does not guarantee customer satisfaction. Well. I beg to differ – I think it does. I think most of us to look to a service business to deliver great service, that’s why they are called Service Businesses.

The competition seem to be using some new fangled stuff called customer experience and relationship management – well the sneaky bastards! That’s just not fair but I suppose if you can’t beat them….

We are going to use a tool (where from, B&Q?) to deliver service at every contact point – see point above about Service Businesses etc.

Over the last few years we have had complaints so we’ve decided to upgrade our IT. Years you say? – no flies on you then.

You are a valued customer and so we are going to deal with you using a CRM system  – how interesting, is that what the cabin crew use as well, a CRM system, or do they just do their job professionally with a nice attitude?

When sourcing the new system – they didn’t commission it, design & build it or even just buy it, they sourced it. Did they maybe outsource it? Who to or who from I wonder?

We not only decided it had to be faster, more flexible and easier to use – as opposed to some new IT system that is slower, more rigid and harder to use, do you know people in the NHS? – it also had to deliver increased value propositions and enhanced customer experience. I’m a career marketer and I’m still not exactly sure what is meant by a value proposition. I’ve seen the expression used in various marketing briefs but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve seen it in consumer copy. And yes thank you for enhancing my customer experience, but would you like to be a little more precise?

The author – well it’s his/her name at the bottom – is one Manoj Papa, Head of Department, Voyager (the SAA Loyalty Scheme). Manoj my friend a) come up with a better title and b) in future try to resist using an internal management document as consumer copy. Think about maybe briefing a copywriter. I know you have a largely business audience but that doesn’t mean they want to read an excerpt from what I can only presume was your Board Proposal to justify all this money you’ve spent on the new IT.

I’m no copywriter (the prefix ‘copy’ might be redundant here) but here’s my 2 minute attempt to say what you need to say if you intend to clog up my inbox.

Hello Mark,

Allow me just to take a minute to tell you that dealing with SAA Voyager has just got a whole lot better. We know we were not up to scratch before, and if you had problems I apologize, but please try the new system, it’s much easier and faster. Once you’ve tried it, I’d welcome any comments you have, good or bad, about this or any aspect of our service. So just click here and try it out. My email address is at the bottom.

Best wishes,

 Manoj Papa, Voyager Director (the buck stops here)

There you go Manoj, how hard was that? PS Make sure your copywriter uses spell check – para 2, “best in classs????”

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