We’ve been engaged in an ongoing exploration of the state of consumer trust (which has recently reached record lows) and how brands can reverse the trend. Today’s consumers, empowered by technology to choose from a wide range of products and to interact with brands on an unprecedented level, prize authenticity, engagement, and social responsibility. It’s a tall order for brands that previously focused solely on selling a solution to a problem.
Marketing in 2017 is about more than solutions – it requires establishing a brand identity that resonates with many various subsets of our increasingly fractured culture. And as the demographics of consumer groups continue to change, brands must emphasize diversity but transcend tokenism. Does it all make your head spin? It all comes down to trust – whether or not consumers believe that your brand has their best interests at heart.
Just as the internet allows consumers free reign to share their opinions about various brands and their products (for better or for worse), it also gives brands the ability to connect, communicate, and ultimately shape their own narrative. Successful storytelling, building a brand story based on authenticity and impact, is one of the most powerful tools available to marketers today. Here’s an example of a brand that harnessed the principles of storytelling to build a relationship based on transparency and trust:
Every good storyteller knows how important it is to set a baseline of understanding – a context – that frames a story for its audience. “Once upon a time…” tells us to expect a fairy tale, while “In a land far, far away” introduces exoticism and the unknown. If the story doesn’t follow through on this initial promise, the audience is left feeling confused and betrayed. Masterful brand storytellers have their own ways of framing their brand experience to create a baseline expectation for consumers.
I recently recalled something I read over a decade ago – The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me) – written by Elon Musk and first published in August of 2006, when Tesla was a relatively unknown quantity. Musk himself had already created a following for himself and was willing to use his public platform to set the stage for Tesla’s future.
…and Following Through
In his “secret master plan,” Musk announced Tesla’s intentions for its future, publicly setting a baseline for the brand’s nascent identity. “The overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company),” Musk wrote, “is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.” He then outlines his strategy to “enter at the high-end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices.”
Now, over ten years later, Tesla has made great progress towards the goals Elon Musk publicly announced with the flair of a master storyteller. He created a baseline for Tesla’s brand narrative… and then he followed through. Because of his radical transparency, consumers who remember the “secret master plan” can look back and see Tesla’s commitment to its core ideals and the step by step progress it has made towards meeting the expectations it created a decade ago. That’s a truly powerful trust-building strategy.
Standing Up for Consumers
A much more recent example of radical transparency and trust-building comes from another high-profile company, Amazon. In advance of the “Great American Eclipse,” the online retailer sold a large variety of specialty glasses that would allow viewers to watch the solar event without suffering eye damage. When they discovered that some of these products had not been sourced from manufacturers cleared by NASA or the American Astronomical Society, Amazon immediately embraced a strategy of transparency.
The company quickly alerted consumers who purchased unverified glasses that their products may not be safe for viewing the eclipse and refunded the purchase price without requiring that the items be returned. “Amazon has not received confirmation from the supplier of your order that they sourced the item from a recommended manufacturer,” the notice read. “We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse.” Amazon also provided information directing consumers to additional safety guidelines.
While a large online retailer like Amazon could have made excuses or claimed that manufacturers were responsible for any defects, by embracing transparency and standing up for consumer safety, the brand turned a potential PR debacle into a victory for consumer trust. Amazon’s quick action in the face of potential adverse health effects showed consumers that the retail giant isn’t too big to protect consumers. The company’s willingness to take responsibility and refund the cost of unverified products communicates that it values consumer’s health above its bottom line.
Transparency Creates Trust
In a modern market environment filled with potential pitfalls for brands and marketers, Tesla and Amazon provide powerful examples of the impact of transparency on building consumer trust. When done in the service of authenticity and responsibility, transparency about goals and failings alike creates an opportunity to demonstrate a brand’s trustworthiness. That’s a strategy that both brands and consumers can appreciate.