AdNews Annual: Trust is built by actions, not words

IAG CMO Brent Smart
By IAG CMO Brent Smart | 11 January 2018
IAG CMO Brent Smart.

This is a free excerpt from the AdNews Annual edition of 2017. Every issue of the monthly magazine has exclusive features, profile interviews and content that isn't usually available online. If you don't subscribe, you're missing out. You can download a digital version of AdNews and subscribe to the premium print edition here.

Trust in crisis. That’s the three-word executive summary of a recent Edelman global study.

It makes sense in an era of Trump, fake news, and our biggest bank embroiled in a money laundering scandal.

But the marketer and optimist in me believes that brands become even more important to help people navigate this post-trust world.

This played out in a recent study in the US by Contagious which found 77% of consumers will only buy products from brands they trust, up significantly from previous years.

After all, brands are a promise. And I could talk a lot about the importance of delivering on those promises, of delivering utility, reliability, expertise, and doing it consistently at scale. Of trust being built by actions, not words.

But let’s not dismiss the words too quickly. Let’s not underestimate their power in building brands people like a bit more and trust a bit more.

I spent 20 years in the advertising business and learned that there is only one profession that offers more insight than an agency planner – comedians.

Take this quote from Woody Allen: “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”

Ironically, I now find myself selling insurance. The point is, there’s nothing worse than someone who sells at you the whole time. Like most brands do.

Marketers' obsession with highly targeted and measurable digital tactics has swung the pendulum to selling products in the short term versus building brands in the long term.

Pre-roll, programmatic, ad tech are all new forms of interruption in sheep’s clothing. Some of this targeting verges on creepy, and can use more data than most people would be comfortable with. 

Surely this isn’t building any form of trust? And it’s questionable whether it’s even any good at driving sales. This is the big question being raised by well-publicised experiments at P&G, and our own robust attribution studies at IAG.

Brands need to be more generous. Stop selling all the time. Stop being about themselves all the time. Have a point of view on the world instead of a point of difference that only the marketing department can see. Stop valuing the highly-targeted and personalised communication over the shared experience of a brand.

Be more John Lewis. Don’t shout at me with your retail offers and bombard me with calls to action, charm me with a beautiful emotional story that I can’t wait to see each Christmas. And do it every year for nearly decade and see sales and profit increase every time.

Be more Pampers. No brand needs to earn trust like the first brand that you let touch your newborn baby’s skin. Each Christmas in the US they run a beautiful spot featuring sleeping babies and the timeless carol “Silent Night”. No product demos, just a wonderfully generous moment, which happens to earn the highest ROI of any spot for this huge P&G brand.

As I now find myself in insurance, we are spending that time building brand trust in a category that lacks it. Through important promises kept, and by asking more of our brands. To stand for something bigger than our products and our category. To make a positive cultural impact. To be generous.

Who would have thought that insurance could be such important and fascinating work? Not Woody.

Brent Smart is the CMO of insurance group IAG.


This is part of the Perspectives Series - Reflections on Trust from The Annual 2017. 

Want more?

See: AdNews Annual: Trust is love by Westpac head of advertising Andrew Howie.

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