The Trust Factor: Building brands with integrity and trust

Living in times of constant digital disruption and a dynamic media landscape, trust is a major force in building businesses, brands and bonds.

The Trust Factor: Building brands with integrity and trust

Brands are striving for consistency and transparency across the board, but when you’re following customers into new channels, and adapting at speed, mistakes can happen. When they do, how can you rebuild trust quickly?

With all this in mind, Campaign Asia partnered with CNN to host a roundtable that looked at how brands can move with the times while staying true to themselves. Titled "The Trust Factor: Building brands with integrity and trust," the event brought together marketers from Kraft Heinz, Mastercard, Tupperware, Unilever, General Mills, MetLife, IBM, Oracle and Citi.

How are brands working to gain consumer trust? 

Hear what roundtable participants had to say about building integrity and trust in the video re-cap below. 

Authentic vs. canned messaging

At the end of the day, consumers’ trust comes from the feeling that brands are talking to them— that they aren’t just airing whatever messaging serves the brand agenda. As consumers shift their thinking from ‘how would this brand or product benefit me from a functional point of view?’ to ‘does this brand understand me and share my values?’, brands also need to connect with their audiences to find a more ‘human way’ of telling their stories.

Sunita Rajan, SVP, CNN international commercial, feels that companies are humanising themselves today by engaging in brand purpose campaigns showing they care, often by telling these very human stories.

"A lot of the work we do today with brands is being able to use authentic, human storytelling," she notes.  "While brands might have their shining marketing message, increasingly we see brand marketers coming to work with us to help elaborate and visualise and tell that story in a very different way."

IBM has also taken a humanising approach by asking employees to share brand stories through their social channels, says Anne Phey, sales excellence and skills director - Asia Pacific. "When these stories go out, it’s not a canned message. Consumers can smell a canned message from a mile away. Someone speaking as who they are builds transparency, a relationship, and you start having a conversation. That kind of trust is very hard to build, but when we have that at the individual level, it’s also hard to break," she notes.

And yet, how should brands become more ‘human’? Surprisingly, a clue might be in the data. While ‘the human’ and data are often pitched against each other, there is increasing awareness in the industry that data—and the insights generated from it—could help marketers understand their audiences better and become better storytellers.

Rajan notes, "The front end of it is the creativity, but what’s informing that is the data and the insights. We protect our journalism with facts, because that’s what we live and die by. When it comes to storytelling for brands, we’ve got to make sure that we’re authentic and that it’s backed up by data and insights."

Sanjeev Kapur, SVP and CMO Asia, MetLife, concurs.

For MetLife, data is key towards helping brands find useful insights, especially at a local market level. Kapur explains that Metlife tracks what the brand’s global proposition of ‘Navigating Life Together’ means in different markets, and tailors its product offering accordingly. "In Japan, we found that the biggest thing the Japanese are looking to navigate is their old age or rougo. There is a lot of anxiety around old age as people see the older generation run out of health, wealth, relevance or dignity. It has made even young people extremely anxious," he says.

The company came up with something called ‘Brighter Rougo’ but realised very quickly it was not cutting through because the campaign didn’t have that humanistic element. "We were not talking about what exactly we were doing to change the rougo for people, whether through our products or our community work." The company decided to ‘talk the walk’ and make the stories more humanistic, centred on "a relatable person making a small transformation in life."

Humanisation can also help brands connect with audiences when their products are complex according to Oracle’s Singapore marketing director Cindy Lin.

"Technology, solutions, the lingo and everything does get a bit complicated. We rely a lot on customer stories. For our data [offering], we shared a customer story from an Indian Children’s Hospital where data was helping the staff save lives."

Picking the right channels

In an increasingly fragmented world, trust is not only built by coming up with a good story, but how that story is being presented and delivered.

Yet, challenges arise in a world when a new content or tech platform seems to launch once every few months.  The first being that brands sometimes feel that they’re being forced to follow consumers onto channels that lack the secure delivery environment of traditional media.

"If you want reach at scale it’s hard to ignore the big platforms," says James Keady, director digital engagement, regional marketing at Citi. "Even with a controversy like YouTube had with its content, you can only pull your spend for so long before it impacts your metrics. There’s a limited market for getting reach at scale as a global brand."

The second challenge is getting the content right—after all, it’s not just enough to ‘be there’. The likes of TikTok and Twitch are luring brands into spaces they are often not adept at communicating in, says MetLife’s Kapur.  "It comes back to, ‘If I’m there and you’re not, then you don’t really understand me.’ But just by putting an ad on TikTok you’re not really on TikTok. You’ve got to know how to make it work," he says.

Roshni Chatterjee, marketing director, Kraft Heinz Company, agrees it can be easy for brands to fall into the trap of doing something that’s buzzing. "But if it’s not tied to the brand’s purpose, it erodes brand trust. Over time, you’re not standing for something."

In response to this fragmentation, CNN developed Great Big Story in 2015, a mobile social video network distributed through Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. It’s since delivered 2,000 stories, including many for brands including last year’s ‘Play Her Way’ for Lego. 

"What’s important is that we deliver a brand-safe environment for the brands that we work with," says CNN’s Sunita. "Millennials haven’t grown up with television, but they are huge fans of video. We felt there was a niche for premium video storytelling. The Stories do not have a typical advertising format, there’s no pre-roll, there’s no display. It allows brands to have an immersive experience without any product message at all, which is interesting."

However brands go about it, all the CMOs agree that building and retaining brand trust has never been more important. As consumers become more sophisticated, they want to actively engage—to be listened to, not just spoken to.

As Citi’s Keady says, "trust is essential, it’s not a choice. Equally, transparency is not optional either. If you’re not transparent, someone will expose you and eventually that’s going to do more brand damage than being upfront about it."

*Top Row, from L-R: Robert Sawatzky, head of content, Campaign Asia, Cindy Lin, marketing director, Singapore, Oracle, Anne Phey, sales excellence & skills director, IBM, Neelesh Suryavanshee, GM & VP marketing, hair care & deodorants, Unilever, Kaveri Khullar, marketing director South East Asia, Mastercard, Toshak Jethwani, head of marketing, MyRepublic Limited, Bipasha Bhattacharya, director, communications, CNN International, Asia Pacific

Bottom Row, from L-R: Sanjeev Kapur, SVP, chief marketing officer, Asia, MetLife, James Keady, director digital engagement regional Marketing, Citi, Sunita Rajan, SVP, CNN international commercial CNN, Roshni Chatterjee, marketing director, Kraft Heinz Company, Jeff Cheng, multi-disciplinary head of marketing, General Mills, Kartik Khare, vice president, marketing & digital Asia Pacific, Tupperware Brands

Source: Campaign Asia-Pacific