How can brands be more honest in the year ahead?

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In the aftermath of Covid-19, we already know that only the strongest and most loyal brands will stand. After a year like 2020, it is no wonder that consumers are looking to connect with brands and their ideals, prompting the dawn of a new era for advertising.

In this scenario, it will be interesting to see which brands do what, and how the most powerful brand stories are going to capitalise on their legacy after years of working on their brand purpose. According to some, such as Alex Moulton below, the time of 'beautiful lies' in advertising is now long gone. But how can brands be and remain more honest in the years ahead?

We reached out to Alex, the Trollbäck+Company Chief Creative Officer, to learn more about the concept of 'post-truth' in branding.


In 2021, brands have to be honest. But what does that look like?

Advertising has long been viewed as a series of “beautiful lies.” It’s much easier to sell an aspiration than to speak the truth or take a stand.

Yet a new era is rapidly approaching – one where 81% of consumers want to support companies they believe in, but admit to trusting only 1 in 3 brands they purchase

Modern brands need to understand that empty noise – while sometimes a welcome break from the neverending news cycle – won’t satisfy anyone’s appetite, won’t earn their trust, won’t create value, and won’t contribute to long-term brand sustainability.

The time for “beautiful lies” is past. Branding in this new era must be about powerful truths.

Word of the decade

Post-truth - defined by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016 as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” has certainly made an imprint on our collective consciousness over the past five years. Now that we are on the verge of vaccine breakthroughs, new leadership, and a potential new era of hope and progress on the horizon, the phrase has only increased in relevancy as we all struggle to figure out what’s real, what’s a risk, and what’s actually going on in the world around us. In the meantime, we have to work harder as marketers to cut through the chaos and recast a vision of the future that we will all actually want to live in. To succeed, that takes truth.

For brands, it means appealing to audiences’ emotions and personal beliefs, while also acknowledging and preparing for the increasingly cautious, cynical approach consumers are taking to everything – from Government to Hollywood to Big Tech.

Brands also need to be radically truthful and authentic in their messaging by being explicit about the principles that guide their brand and standing by it. They also must not be afraid to step back, take stock of their own strengths, weaknesses, and impacts on society, and re-engage with people in a way that proves they’re willing to learn, grow, and speak truth to power. Done right, brands can offer consumers the transparency and comfort they want. The key is to champion brand integrity from the inside out.

In fact, we’re certainly seeing more brands shift away from the “viral KPIs” of the last decade – clicks, likes, and views – towards measuring meaningful engagement like resharing, word of mouth, and positive feedback. By following a more engaging and honest approach, your audience can learn what you stand for, see their own values reflected, and make better-educated choices.

Show your work

So, if being radically open and honest with consumers is the best way to earn their trust and their business, how do brand teams get there?

To adopt a truthful stance, brands need to first identify their core belief – the character they want to stand for, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with their community of consumers. Next, they need to figure out how to link their brand’s mission to an external initiative that can help people right now. This could be a fast-food company’s commitment to essential workers, or a large corporation’s pledge to help small businesses, but it could be as simple as supporting their staff’s mental or physical well-being.

Then, figure out how to show this work so that consumers can see the truth behind the claims. A brand’s core belief needs to weave through every aspect of the company, from business practices to products to messaging and beyond. It should be a factor in every decision made, creatively, financially, strategically –– not just featured in an ephemeral campaign. This consistency is how brandsprove commitment to the powerful truths they want to represent while building credibility and trust.

This is how brands forge lasting emotional connections with their clients, audiences, and consumers. Just as you would as an individual, preserving your integrity by repeatedly showing yourself to be what you say you are is the basis of building brand character, loyalty, and love –– increasingly difficult outcomes to create in an era more marked by distrust and cynicism than blind devotion.

Align from the inside out

The bottom line is that people around the world are searching for hope and hungry for their trust to be earned. They need leaders and brands to step up with transparency and integrity, show their values to the world without manipulation, and give the public honest options that allow them to reflect their powerful truths through their choices.

Think of it as an opportunity for brands to provide the ultimate service: security, transparency, and positive action that today’s consumers are ready to embrace. Brands can help lead the way in making a better world by authentically engaging with the people they serve, recognizing the way consumers’ feelings inform their needs, understanding, and re-imagining their impacts, and most essentially, following through on that promise.

Alex Moulton is the Chief Creative Officer of Trollbäck+Company. Header image: Federica Pingani


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