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Trust – the currency of a brand’s reputation capital

23rd July 2014


The world is ‘growing’ smaller. Quite ironic, since ‘growing’ usually pertains to an increase in size and not the other way round. Thus it is true that even as the world contracts into the palm of our hands via phones, tablets, phablets and the like; society continues to gain power, expand its understanding of its needs, and sadly for the individual yet fortunately for the whole, become less believing.

Now, before this starts sounding like a sociological bhaashan, for all intents and purposes let me clarify that the only reason I state the above is because the consumer whose attention we all vie for is but a representative of a society that today, is more particular in decision-making while simultaneously being more knowledgeable, than a decade earlier.

An example if you please; about 4 years ago, when I started my rather informal education in the sustainability-based communications space, upon asking friends and family (potential consumers and unwitting survey respondents) which organisation they favoured for their purchases as far as shares on the bourses, and internet dongles went, the answer for the former was RIL vis-à-vis Tata for the latter.

Today when I ask colleagues, family and friends the same question, the unilateral answer is Tata, whatever the product in question, be it shares on the stock market, or mobile and internet connections. Society has evolved into a being that makes purchases based on more than just advertisements and celebrity endorsements, and this change to trust-based decisions has been a delayed yet rapid one, especially in India.

The sooner we understand that trust, as Rachel Botsman puts it, is the currency of the new economy, the faster we will progress in our efforts in creating a mindshare for brands we are affiliated to. As you read this article, pause… no wait… GENUINELY PAUSE…… and ask yourself, “Most of us might use Vodafone or Airtel, but doesn’t No Ullu Banaoing strike a chord somewhere within each of us? Haven’t I ever been ullu banao’ed, in one situation or the other, and isn’t it time I put an end to this?”

The fact that the campaign works in spite of Abhishek Bachchan’s acting skills shows that the greater good, a shared purpose, a trust in a brand, is what the consumer looks at today while making a purchasing decision.

Studies today show that for products of similar quality, consumers will put their faith in a company’s reputation while choosing a brand. The point I am thus trying to make, is that whilst the communications industry and brands managers in India are by and large stuck in the mud of clip-counting, our target audience, group, segment (call it what you will) has moved on.

Bemoaned by many in the PR industry across agencies big and small is the fact that clients understand only Advertising Value Equivalent. How many of us, as PROs, have had to hear at monthly and annual client review meetings, “The work done is excellent, but we should look at greater outreach”?

Do let me clarify for the young and the new, that greater outreach is not about building a deeper connect in intensity and reach, but more coverage in more publications in MORE cities.

As PR professionals, as marketers, as strategic partners, it’s time we advise our clientele to break with number-driven tradition and work towards campaigns that build trust in their brand. A press release or press conference, a concept note or authored article, digital or traditional – these are just tools. Look beyond the operational and tactical, and frame strategy that adheres to the needs of the times.

Think beyond an AVE of a few 100 crore per annum for your clientele. Think beyond that oh-so-elusive front page of a Bennett Coleman group publication. Think of why we as PR professionals would prefer working for brands such as Google, Coca Cola and  Tata. And once we’ve figured out why, we’ll mostly know what these brands did right, and be able to replicate that in some way or the other.

Trust me. It actually isn’t that difficult. Handling communications in banking? Think of whether you’ve ever been fleeced by *fine print. Do you handle pharma? Think of how your client’s expertise in waste management can be utilised for society. Handling telecom? Start a distress helpline on your brand’s birthday. Call it their understanding of the gift of life.

Show compassion. Compassion builds trust. And trust is what builds your Reputation Capital.

Communicate this to your clients, their employees, their consumers and your Boss. Tell your colleagues and every PR person who says, “Yaar, client Aur coverage ke liye jaan le raha hai”. They might just think you’ve lost your marbles. But then again… They just might end up trusting your judgment.

Until next time for further tips and tippani

Sandeep Rao, Group Head, Blue Lotus Communications


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