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“What brands say matters. Your message counts.”

As marketers, that might be something that we have always wanted to believe, but ask the public on the street, and they would likely give a different answer.

The world has changed.

The concept of “Fake News” leaves people wondering who they can trust to guide them in understanding the world. I like to believe that most of us still have faith in the media to do their jobs and check their sources. But with so much information being shared through social media from sources that people have never heard of, your online social community is no longer just a filter bubble that reinforces your existing beliefs, it is an echo chamber of opinions and propaganda which is increasingly difficult to unpick.

This is information overload. It is polarising people worldwide, and it is leaving a vacuum of trust in it’s wake.

As brands and marketers, we took for granted that globalisation was happening and it was a good thing. It meant our products and services would have greater reach. Our job was therefore to establish relevance and trust and simply follow the natural order as we expand to new markets. This polarisation however, means that we now have two camps: one that maintains a continued belief that globalisation is inevitable and beneficial and one which is increasingly nationalistic.

It’s a conversation that can’t be avoided as politics seems to have replaced the weather as the thing people talk about most. But brands have traditionally tried to steer clear of politics so as to avoid the dangers of alienating a potential consumer. But if the political centre disappears, then where does your brand sit?

Nike, Starbucks, Diesel and have all stepped into the frame to communicate their values. In the case of Diesel they have done it through advertising alone with “Make Love not Walls”. Starbucks on the other hand has taken a stand through policy by telling the world that diversity helps their strength and they will support it through the hiring of immigrants. And then there is Nike who have done both – communicating to their staff that they will support them regardless of legal changes, and communicating externally through their 90 second film “Equality”.

Now the truth is, I can’t tell you that this type of political communication has had any impact on their bottom line. Only time and their quarterly reports will tell us that. But I can tell you that in the world of social echo-chambers it has meant a burst of both volume and sentiment through social channels.

This isn’t without risk though.

Uber’s bypassing the taxi blockade at JFK airport in New York coupled with their CEO’s position on Trumps economic advisory council led to a boycott of the brand and to over 200,000 people deleting the Uber app from their phones and to the Travis Kalanick eventually resigning from Trumps council. So there is definitely an economic risk.

That said, it is exactly the success of this consumer boycott that points to the importance of brands having strong values that they communicate through both their actions and words. Consumers have realised the power they hold with purchase dollars and increasingly likely to use that power to influence and they are starting to use that power as “activists”.

Brand trust today is no longer just about does your product work and do I trust you to provide a good service for me. Today, brand trust is about people believing that you are doing the right thing for their future, for societies’ future.

Do I trust that you have societies interests at heart and that your brand is helping to make the world a better place, or do I think you are only focused on your own bottom line?

The writer is Justin Peyton, chief strategy officer APAC, DigitasLBi. 

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