trust.

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The T word.

I met with a technology CEO this week who has been doing some work with a brand strategy boutique. The executive shared with me the main output of the work – the main brand idea – and it was “trust.” Without giving too much away about the company and the category I will admit consumers who trust his product more than a competitor’s are likely favor the company with business. Trust is not wrong, but as a brand idea it is not right either. You can’t just manufacture trust. It’s a process. It’s something that has to be built. If the endgame, therefore, is to be trusted more than a competitor, one needs a strategy that engenders trust. So the brand idea needs to be the about the path not the end point.

A good branding shop should know better. But of course, one can sell trust to any number of clients to get heads nodding. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That makes sense.”

Coke wants to create preference (end point) but it uses refreshment to get there. Branding is about the journey not the end point. (Did I just use the word journey? I must be slipping.) Branding is also about using words, images, deeds and experiences to create context that get you credit for other things. Things left unsaid. Things you earn but don’t have to say. Like trust.

Peace.

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Ideas are hard to trust. Tangible things like design, ads, copy, promotion, and user experience are easier to trust.  You can see them, ask your friends about them, test them.  “I love that logo. That ad brought in 100 new customers.  My email campaign had a 1.25% click through rate.”

But ideas? You can’t scientifically parse and evaluate an idea.  Brand strategies are ideas. Volvo makes you safer.  Coca Cola refeshes. Cottonelle is softer.  These brand strategies, like all good ones, are indelible.  I’ve written a great deal about ROS or return on strategy.  So far, ROS is just an idea.  Though one can calculate ROI ( return on investment/tactic), return on strategy is much harder to calculate.  Why? Because ROS tries to understand the value of an idea. When I sell “rebooting the phone business” to a VOIP client along with 3 organizing principles to support the claim, I’m selling an idea. This idea might be measured in year over year sales, but on paper, how it is dimensionalized and quantified is not easy. (I still have work to do.)

Because ideas are easy to understand but harder to trust, branding has lost ground in today’s marketing world.  I joke that digital has created tactics-palooza and it’s true.  The best brands are idea-driven. Tight ideas and tight supports. Ideas create new products. Ideas motivate armies. Ideas make you happy or sad.

Ideas are hard to sell but the top tier CMOs get them. And live them.  What’s your brand’s idea? Peace.

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Ashton Kutcher is quoted in the paper today about one of his venture capital investments. “Turning social trust into commerce” was the word string that caught my eye.  To me this is the essence of social computing for marketers. And, so you know,  the social web is not just about commerce and marketing.  Sometimes social is just social.  But we all have to eat and we all have to buy, so finding trusted sources of influence is a key.

I met with an SEO marketing person yesterday about my blog.  It’s not really high on any organic search list.  Before the meeting I Googled “brand planning” and was at the top of page 5.  He wanted me to pay him a thousand a month but could do something for $500.  I needed to have more calls to action, more free offer boxes, more this, more that, meta flah flah flah.  He was right, but also wrong. Too much flah, flah, flah and I begin got lose that trust mantle Ashton talks about.  “But how many inquiries are you getting a day?” said he.  Not many. But that’s okay for now.  My approach trust building is not through the algorithm.  Not though black hat search or white hat search (Call too action: If you want to know what white hat search is, leave a comment or email me). I tend the garden every day.

For me — and I’m in a funny business — I sell by not over-selling and then making it easy to contact me.  I think this is good advice for everyone on the web…with or without a commercial enterprise.  That’s why Ashton has over 6M followers. He’s easy to contact. Ish. Peace!

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Trust, Authenticity and Transparency are the three "pop marketing" words of the day. ROI was last year. Trust, Authenticity and Transparency can be found on every marketing blog and in every social media webinar worth their free price of admission.

 

Sound like I have a bug up my arse? You bet.

 

Here’s the problem with brands today: They don’t mean anything. Most brands are not imbued with an idea, but with many ideas. They are defined by campaigns, not a brand strategy. We, as consumer, are therefore so confused we default to the “is” of the Is/Does.  Levy’s is jeans. Coke is cola. And with so many people managing these brand across so many silos we don’t know what the brands “do.” We can’t land on a brand value, because it is ever-changing.  

 

That’s why everyone is talking about Trust, Authenticity and Transparency.  Everyone is  confused.  And with social media added to the brand management fray, there’s even more confusion. Return On Strategy (ROS) is the most important brand metric there is. Not the ROI which measures tactics. Too much ROI leads to the need for? That’s right. Trust, Authenticity and Transparency. Peace!

 

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There was an interesting article in the NY Times Business Section over the weekend about Amazon and eBay. It suggested Amazon is winning because they do better long-term planning and are willing to fail for a while so they can win.

 

Both companies have made some missteps, but both should thrive.  Even with its problems, eBay is still the leader in online auction.  Amazon is the 800 lb. gorilla in online retailing, and since ecommerce is only 7% of all commerce, there’s certainly room for both.

 

Some advice for eBay: Keep the auction business discrete. Any playing around with fixed price, VOIP, online payment, etc. should be either spun off or handled by unique management. Smart decisions are harder to make when considering the impact on other “family” businesses. As for Amazon: Stop with all the “trust” value prop talk. Make your business about “price.” Trust is earned and requisite, it’s not a branding idea.  Peace!

 

 

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