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Brands: From Informing to Supporting

ImageIf you've missed the last few articles in this series, you may want to review them before readin on. In this series I have been outlining Enterprise Transformation and the Role of Social including an examination of using social within your company in Social Employees Drive Digital Transformation, how companies can use social with their trading partners in Social Powers Business Ecosystems, and of course how social can be used with customers starting with From Advertising to Engagement.

In these last few posts on social and customers I have been addressing the three crucial transitions that organizations need to go through when implementing social as a core competency in their marketing activities:

From Interrupting to Connecting -- was about the importance of a new marketing competency in the curation of communities

From Entertaining to Collaborating -- described how companies need to engage in a reciprocal relationship with customers

And in this article I will address the third transformation, From Informing to Supporting -- exploring how the goal of engagement must be the creation of value for your customers -- supporting them not just giving them the message you want to give them.

This last transformation may be the most difficult of the core modalities of twentieth century advertising for marketers to overcome. The basis for it, providing people with information, is in itself valid. People need information about product and services and companies should be a source. But a company's role in the collection of information has changed and behavior must change also.

Before the Internet companies were the primary and sometimes only source of information on their own products. Want to buy a new Ford Taurus? Perhaps you would look at Consumer Reports or automotive magazines. But most likely you'd go to a dealership -- see the car, speak to a salesman, get a brochure...

But with the Internet and social media, if you want to buy a Ford Taurus, should you rely exclusively on Why would you trust the company that wants to sell you the car to give you honest information about the car? According to Edelman's "14th Annual Trust Barometer" an annual report in which Edelman surveys 33,000 people in 27 markets on their trust in institutions, online search is well ahead of traditional media sources today as the way most consumers begin to seek or validate information about a business. And when it comes to trust in who the information comes from, respondants put trust in people like themselves almost as often as experts:

Credibility of Spokesperson

Academic or Expert: 67% 

A Person Like Yourself: 62%

Regular Employee: 52%

CEO: 43%

Edelman measures 16 individual trust attributes in five clusters: engagement, integrity, products and services, purpose, and operations. Engagement and integrity were both high importance performance areas where companies are underperforming. Trust in corporate communications like press releases, reports and emails has fallen over the 14 years Edelman has done this survey and advertising is the least trusted communication form. 


Instead of thinking of themselves as the primary source of information about products or services, companies should think of their role as supporting customers in finding the information relevant to them from many different sources. Certainly some information must come from the company, but independent Internet and social sources will be more highy trusted so companies must work to make sure that the information there is complete and accurate and should support customers in finding these sources.

Services such as Yelp offer examples for how customers can provide trusted information about companies in venues where the companies themselves are also welcome to participate. Any activity a company engages in which supports their customers or prospects in obtaining relevant information is superior to one in which the company tries to authoritatively be the source of that information.

To do this though companies have to master a new set of competencies -- how to engage with independent forums with integrity, how to support customers in finding these information sources, how to monitor and track what is working and be responsive to things that aren't working -- even if responsiveness may mean making changes in the company's policies or offerings.

In the next article in this series I will outline the emerging set of competencies that organizations must master.

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