CRAIG DAVIS: Brand influence and trust in strangers

Craig Davis
By Craig Davis | 12 June 2012
Publicis Mojo chief creative officer, Craig Davis.

My mother always told me to be wary of strangers. But today, strangers' advice helps me make all sorts of important decisions, from investing, to where I travel and how I get there, to the food I eat.

And despite the internet's endless stream of cautionary tales, I have a high degree of faith in the recommendations of people I may never meet.

During the past 20 years, people's trust in government, business and religious leaders and, yes, advertising has slumped dramatically.

Over the same period, the confidence people place in friends and family, and perfect strangers has soared. This is the era of people power in which opinion and influence move around at light speed over platforms and social networks. To me, the most interesting element of Kony was not the film but the posters' inverted triangle that implied the real driver of action is influence of the masses.

Digital communications empower everyday people who, as individuals, would not be within shouting distance of corporate or government leaders, to influence and agitate for massive change. Hence GetUp! mobilises its 370,000 registered Australian members - more than all the political parties combined - for causes as diverse as getting asylum-seeker children out of detention centres, pokies reform and stopping coal seam gas mining.

Provided motivations are transparent and honest. We don't need to know one another intimately to have faith and trust.

So, in our hyper-connected world, influence should be more achievable than ever before, right? Our digital dashboards flash 'likes', tweets and re-tweets, 'pins' and hits', yet we continue to view such metrics in the context of reach, as though how often or how many people see the brand is the end goal.

Yes, impressions can generate influence, but not necessarily. We, as marketers and creative people, should be inspiring action - and, ideally, advocacy - to generate positive momentum for the brands in our charge.

By its very nature, advocacy carries influence. But advocacy is not about finding the right people and paying them cash for commentary. It's about doing and being seen to do the right thing, in the process inspiring trust.

For brands, then, the aim is to motivate people to honestly share their views and recommendations. Kangaroo Island is spectacular, but people quickly see whether celebrity tweets are genuine.

Nor can marketing fake reality anymore: an army of PR experts won't spin your way out of trouble if your brand's actions are contrary to its ethos.

For all our new communications channels, the essence of what successful brands do hasn't changed. Things go right when you deliver fantastic products and service and exceed expectations. Demonstrating value and inspiring the consumer to share his or her experience is exponentially more effective than any number of 'likes' or re-tweets your latest campaign achieved.

I believe true advocacy doesn't start externally but from within the organisation itself. Customers won't be happy if employees and suppliers aren't, so they should be a brand's first advocates. And before you dismiss that as a management fad, consider Apple, GE, Wholefoods Market and Best Buy. Their healthy workplace cultures inspire a positive workforce that has fuelled their growth - in no small way because staff love where they work, are passionate about the brands they represent and willingly share that sentiment.

These results are what we should be measuring: high staff retention, innovation cultures and a workforce unleashed as brand advocates. Likeability and 'likes' are not the same thing at all and authenticity is the key to advocacy.

Craig Davis
Chief Creative Officer
Publicis Mojo

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