Nicky Forrest, Phipps PR - Don't take trust for granted

The evolving relationship between brands and target audiences is one that PROs must embrace.

Some of us will remember with nostalgia the trusted brands of our childhoods. As post-war austerity gave way to the age of consumption, the new consumer trusted in brands. Was it simpler then? Until the 1980s, trust in a brand was focused on product reliability and the image created around that reliability.

Brands had authority and we believed in the scientist in the white coat recommending the washing powder. As a result, consumer PR campaigns focused on raising awareness of the brand and providing a call to action for consumers to buy more.

Then came the change in the relationship of trust between consumers and brands. People no longer trusted implicitly. Drug scares, food scares, political scandals and pressure groups ensured that the genie came out of the bottle for ever. In place of trust has come a more demanding set of expectations. Consumers want to know about sourcing, seek reassurance about ethical trading; they are more interested and actively involved and increasingly look for brands whose images encapsulate social and community values. This explosion in expectation and scrutiny doesn't just rest with the brand. It has influenced how consumers seek information on the companies behind their favourite brands. Fuelled by the unparalleled accessibility provided by digital and social media, the trend has not been dampened by recession.

The power of the digital community combined with a much savvier consumer has increased the pressure. Consumers are much better informed and therefore more selective in how they spend their money. They no longer rely just on what they see in a supermarket or read in a newspaper. They talk to each other through Twitter, Facebook and blogging. Consumers are seeking reassurance from each other rather than taking matters at face value from governments, companies and brands. Innocent consumers have been reborn as streetwise citizens. They question, debate and judge.

So what does this mean for the traditional consumer PR campaign? Well, life isn't going to get easier. There is certainly no point heaping more complexity upon complexity. Consumer PR is not rocket science. It is a case of being honest, quick, clear and simple.

Honesty - When a brand is under 24-hour scrutiny, you can't make it up. If you don't know it, don't do it. Nothing erodes trust quicker than a brand or company trying to pull a fast one.

Quick - Brands and companies have to be right at the front when it comes to emerging issues - what is the next organics or carbon or GM? - and to have the capabilities to develop digital campaigns that inform 24/7.

Clear - this is where the marketing and PR teams have to work even more closely together. The ideal fusion is one of consumer marketing and PR looking at functional and lifestyle trends together with social and community trends. This is where CSR needs to be integrated in a business - at the heart of the brand strategy and communications programme.

Simple - the style, tone and language of a brand and business are direct expressions of their behaviours and values. The simpler these are, the clearer they are for employees to support and buy into.

In conclusion, has the shape of the traditional consumer PR campaign changed? Yes it has. But the critical element of trust remains and it is important that we see trust as an ever-developing relationship between the brand and its consumers. Those PR people who embrace and act on this will be successful. Those who do not will be left dreaming about how lovely it all was in the age of innocence.

- Nicky Forrest is managing director at Phipps


- Who is your fantasy campaign spokesman/woman? Why?

These days it's about engendering trust above anything else, so I'd have to say anyone who can tell the brand truth from the heart - think Kerrygold and its 'farmer' campaign.

- Which consumer brand most successfully capitalised on the election campaign season?

Has to be Marmite - bold as ever, innovative, engaging and timely. I also loved Ikea's 'Domestic policy' campaign with a series of kitchens inspired by the party leaders - very quirky.

Nicky Forrest, Phipps PR recommends

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