It’s the people stupid. And it’s the real people inside organisations that count…

Posted on April 17, 2012


I think it was Michael Eisner that once said that a brand was the product of a thousand small gestures. What a wonderful saying. I particularly love the word gesture as it suggests that the smallest of actions as well as the most significant of decisions can play a part in affecting ones view of a brand.

Brands today have an incredibly tough time in convincing people to trust them. Alongside media, governments and even NGOs they are seeing trust erode – Edelman’s trust barometer is proof of this.

But then again, the Edelman trust barometer is always shifting – no surprises there. After all, as the wider economic picture changes so our trust in those around us changes. The uncertainty of last year saw a surge in trust in CEOs as leaders. Perhaps they were seen as the people to take us out of recession. Not anymore as the CEO is back in Edelman’s doldrums.

What has not shifted is trust in experts. Specifically, company experts.

This leads me on to how companies use their experts and their people to promote their brands. Edelman have even done a big piece on this – the inside out approach. I agree with them, but as brands we can make terrible mistakes. We all remember Howard from the Halifax. Like Marmite he was a like him or love him character. And this is the thing with organisations using their people to promote their brands. Who do you use? Halifax are still using happy, smiling and singing bank staff to convince us of their trustworthiness. As a bank bailed out by the taxpayer, it’s no wonder they are singing, and as members of the public we see through them.

Take Chevron for example, they talk about Human Energy. They are onto something here as they are using portraits of people to back up their message. BUT, there is something that is not quite real about them all. They are all too unreal. Too clean. Too comfortable. Real people are just not like that and to build trust you need to place your real un-doctored people in front of the public.

The same applies to the experts a business places in front of people. There are so many experts now and a new one pops up on the media every day. Experts in safety, in airline travel, in pensions, in financial advice. With all these experts in the world it’s a wonder that planes crash, pensions go sour or banks go bust. Do we really trust them? They either have to have an amazing track record or be doing the job ‘live’ as you talk to them. Experts include the guy that actually stood on top of the Shard and fitted the last pieces in place. I want to hear from him about Safety.

Or the scientist at a well-known pharmaceutical company who actually participated in an experiment for a cure for malaria they were that committed to their cause. I want to hear from them on why they think it is important that corporations take such a dedicated view when it comes to undertaking and sharing their research free.

Never more has a bank needed to tap into the potential of its people and find a way to drop the idiotic approach of presenting sycophantic store staff and start to offer up people that are serious about keeping money safe, serious about investment, serious about maintaining a healthy economic picture. That’s the kind of real person that exists inside a bank and one that we may wish to see on the outside – not the smiler offering us £50 back if we open an account today or some such gimmick! This stuff sucks and it’s patronising beyond belief.

So, there you go. By all means go for an inside out approach, but when you are promoting the face and voice of your people make sure you let the real advocates emerge and endorse what they are about, don’t get them to endorse what you are about.

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