With a nod of credit and respect to Mr. Dickens, it truly is the best of times and the worst of times. Worst first: the economy’s in the tank. Best next: companies have a real opportunity to become more important in the lives of their customers and bring more meaning to society as a whole.
Why? Because in these tough times, consumers are expecting more of companies. They’re looking for corporations to not only provide goods and services, they’re looking for corporations to help provide solutions. Solutions to help ease society’s pressing issues, from health care to climate change.
The Edleman Trust Barometer recently reported that “The United States is experiencing the widest divide between business and government in the survey’s nine-year history, with 58% saying they trust business to do what’s right compared with only 39% for government.”
We all know that trust is fragile and must be nurtured, protected and defended. And with consumers still reeling from the failings and mismanagement of the financial and auto industries and stories of extravagant executive compensation (even in underperforming companies), it’s practically a miracle that people have chosen to place their trust in companies.
In return, they’re expecting more. They’re expecting more transparency – beyond the financials, beyond the PR spin. They’re not swallowing advertising messaging whole anymore. Instead, they’re often bypassing corporate messaging altogether and turning to the opinions of other consumers on sites like epinions.com, goodguide.com and consumerist.com. They’re rewarding “good behavior” and punishing those companies they believe are exhibiting “bad behavior.” They’re more active than ever and more discriminating than before.
So what’s a good marketer to do? Prove to consumers that you’re worthy of their trust. Tell your stories with unabashed transparency. Be honest about your successes and show what you’ve learned from your shortcomings. Publish a corporate social responsibility report to show you’re concerned about more than just the numbers. In short, understand and live up to their elevated expectations. Or they’ll start looking somewhere else.