There’s not a week goes by – and I mean that quite literally – in which we don’t see a sector bemoan its image problem. The launch of some campaign or other to raise awareness of a ‘message’ and get people to see the valuable contribution it makes to society.
This week it’s housing, but I could have selected almost anyone. Charities, the NHS, Financial Services – everyone, everywhere is obsessed with image.
One thing I’m certain of is that all these marketing campaigns and re-branding efforts will fail.
Here’s why: trust in institutions is eroding. And trust can only be rebuilt by actions, not words.
Imagine you’re in a relationship that starts to break down. You don’t seem to understand each other anymore. Here’s what you might do:
- Go back to the start. Revisit the experiences that attracted you to each other in the first place.
- Recalibrate the relationship – trying new things together.
- Wipe the slate clean. Start afresh and reinvent yourself. A new era and new challenge.
Here’s what you absolutely would not do:
- Start a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of your contribution to the relationship.
- Get all your mates to agree you’re a brilliant person and tell your loved one that he/she’s mistaken.
- Launch a new strategy to tell them what you’ll achieve over the next five years.
But time and again we see organisations adopting exactly that approach – just with the public and politicians in mind.
The issue that we face is that trust is in question. Distrust in business and government is the new normal. And you can’t rebuild trust through marketing.
The latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows that we face a truly global challenge.
In the digital age we are getting ever more astute in spotting spin, marketing and doublespeak.
The most credible sources are not your comms team, but an academic, a technical expert, a regular employee and “a person like myself”. All of these are more trusted than the people we here from the most – CEOs.
A ‘person like yourself’ builds trust – so we need to promote the voices of those engaged in frontline services, not the hierarchy.
Government is ,unsurprisingly, the least trusted institution. However non-profit organisations are also losing trust as they are perceived as ineffectual.
In the world after Kids Company , and amid a huge decline of trust in charities, it’s no longer good enough to do good. You need to BE good.
If trust is at a tipping-point it’s a time for action not words.
To rebuild trust in our organisations we need to be more like people. Relationships in the digital age require acknowledging and accepting our human flaws. Ironically digital gives us the opportunity to be more human, to interact with people in more nuanced, intimate ways.
For organisations that means adopting behaviours of extreme transparency , honesty and sharing failure.
There are four things we need to do:
- Default to transparency – publish everything. Even our biggest mistakes.
- Reinvent services – not rebrand them.
- Humanise the organisation – push our customers and colleagues to the forefront, not the bosses.
- Forget trying to change the image of sectors – if we align ourselves with a sector we just become an average of everyone else.
Ultimately – if you really want to transform perceptions of your organisation or sector there’s only one option:
Anything else is just an expensive waste of time.