Opinion

Brand hate can be overcome - if you earn people's trust

Allyson Stewart-Allen, chief executive of International Marketing Partners London, looks at ways in which much-criticised brands can improve their reputation and restore their corporate standing.

Shell: topped the Sigwatch list of most-criticised companies in the UK
Shell: topped the Sigwatch list of most-criticised companies in the UK

Recent research by NGO-campaigns-tracker Sigwatch reveals a list of the most-criticised and praised brands. Not surprisingly, the former is largely populated by energy companies and banks, while food and drink brands dominate the latter.

I expect the CEOs and CMOs running the businesses on both lists should be interested in moving up or off next year’s ranking. But how? Is it a matter of throwing more money at advertising? Market research? Customer experience?

Walk the talk

Becoming a revered enterprise involves more than pulling the levers of marketing’s 4Ps. It requires alignment of values and behaviours, doing what you say you’ll do. Growing consumer distrust of "big business" is a trend that won’t disappear any time soon, with every aspect of an organisation’s actions scrutinised whether by Sigwatch or some other monitor.

That alignment boils down to living the values, which is beyond the domain of the marketing function but can certainly be influenced by it. For instance, imagine if the corporate affairs and marketing functions were even more closely integrated in most businesses. You’d then ensure that how the organisation serves consumers is in sync with how it does its ethical sourcing, its hiring and firing policies, its corporate culture, and its diplomacy in the communities in which it operates.

Trust is the foundation of reputation, which, in turn, attracts suppliers, talent, customers, and sources of financing.

When these operations line up intentionally, in favourable ways, the organisation earns and keeps trust. And we know trust is the foundation of reputation, which, in turn, attracts suppliers, talent, customers, and sources of financing, among other things.

So, to start this engine turning requires leaders that value more than profits, more than short-term objectives, more than the lowest-cost supplier in the chain. It requires leaders that value getting the best from employees, encouraging innovation and doing right by the customer.

It sounds so simple, yet it is increasingly hard to find companies that have earned and kept trust.

Instead, maybe we need a monitor that points the way for brands to become the most-loved, rather than a downward cycle of naming and shaming? Carrots generally work better than sticks.