Consumers will vote for brands they trust

The General Election has put trust at the top of the agenda. Mac Cato considers how this elusive quality is central to branding success

I’ve been thinking about how to create meaningful brand stories, and particularly what it takes to be a successful brander. My conclusion is that the best branders share one skill above all others – they are all disciplined creative innovators. Sounds a little obvious? Well, yes, but consider Apple.

Much to its competitors’ chagrin, brand Apple represents the best in innovative creativity. It succeeds by foreseeing a consumer need (often one that consumers didn’t know they wanted), inventing something new, and then promoting it ferociously. Apple’s chief brand champion, Steve Jobs, is the personification of innovative creativity. He is also passionate, tenacious and incredibly competitive. He understands that the goal of retail is to create places where people would rather be – and thus make them more likely to buy. But Jobs also knows that ’brands are us’ and he recognises that ’we’ are both the answer and the problem. We are fickle.

And fickle is one of the more generous descriptions of voters in an election – especially the forthcoming General Election. Politicians know this, so why are they such inept branders? None of the parties has convinced us that it is the one to lead us out of the wilderness. This is partly because no party has developed an innovatively clever call to action. Think back. The old Tory slogan ’Labour isn’t working’ is acknowledged as a benchmark in successful emotional branding. To those around at the time, this message summed up all our frustrations, whether we leaned towards Labour or the Tories.

This time the stakes are global and just as high. We need to believe in a party of purposeful doers, committed to telling us the hard facts and – while not sugar-coating the painful solutions – dedicated to targeting our hopes and managing our fears about what lies ahead. Where is this era’s compelling call to action?

Of course, all brands are always up for re-election, but one new scientific development could make life easier for branders of all stripes. Leading neuroscientists now believe that 90 per cent of all human decisions are emotionally based, and made below the level of consciousness. This is a game-changing fact, not a theory. Smart branders can now establish what the key emotional attributes of a brand are in consumers’ collective unconscious first, and then set the creatives loose to create ’ideas the consumer can feel’ – and are thus more likely to buy into. Who do we trust to help us get back on course?

The trajectories of ’commercial persuasion’ brands and ’societal persuasion’ brands are crossing and increasingly shaping global societies. How do we progress toward effective governance of global banks? Today the stakes are higher than ever for societal persuasion brands, the ’isms’ (capitalism, religious politics and so on). At the extreme end of the spectrum, conflicts between competing beliefs can be a matter of life and death. Think religious wars throughout history. Commercial persuasion brands, however, usually fight lower-level battles, offering products that make necessities more convenient and offer easy access to life’s little pleasures – ’Things go better with Coke’. But whether things do or don’t go better, the social and financial stakes are high.

There are many identifiable skills required to become a successful global brander. However, my list, required of both left-brained brand owners and right-brained creatives, can be summed up simply. A consistently successful brander delivers products, or campaign propositions, that consumers and voters want, not just need.

They always read the tea leaves – what lies ahead? They develop and maintain meaningful dialogues with the customers. They always look for what lies beneath in consumers’ minds. Perhaps most importantly, they deliver brand communications the audience feels it can trust. Just a few weeks ago in the US, after a painful year of unremitting battle with the Republicans over healthcare reform, President Barack Obama (pictured below) finally eschewed his customary forbearance and came out fighting. And the Democrats won. And this is what he said to his weary brand warriors just before the final vote in Congress: ’This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, “Doggone it, this is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true”.’ That last phrase is borrowed from Abraham Lincoln during an election in the darkest days of the American Civil War. So which of our parties will be ’bound to be true’?

According to Chambers Dictionary, trust means, ’to believe; to expect confidently; to hope; to give credit; to commit to trust’.
Trust is the ultimate brand value.

Mac Cato is chairman of Cato Associates and author of ’Go logo! A handbook to the art of global branding:12 keys to creating successful global brands’, published by Rockport, priced £27.99

How to be trustworthy

  • Always read the tea leaves – what lies ahead?
  • Develop and maintain meaningful dialogues with the customers
  • Look for what lies beneath in consumers’ minds
  • Deliver brand communications the audience feels it can trust

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