The Future of Brands in a Post-Trust Era

Posted by Abbie McMahon and Adam Stead | 02-May-2018 17:11:59

‘The Future of Brands in a Post-Truth Era’ evening took place on Tuesday 1 May at Soho Hotel. It was conducted in partnership with Sitecore and WPP.

We will be continuing the conversation through our 'Future of Brands does Breakfast' series, starting off with 'The Value-Defined Customer Journey' on Wednesday 11th July. Find out more here.

Sitecore is about customer experience; their mission is to help their clients provide the best possible customer experience through content management and personalisation. WPP needs no introduction. As one of the “big four” advertising agencies, they are on the forefront of digital change in the branding sector.

A number of speakers and panelists contributed to the evening, including:

Mark Zablan, Chief Revenue Officer, Sitecore

Amil Pasic, Director Assurance Innovation, EY

James Dilley, Platform Team, Content & Data Lake,

Dave Wallace, Chief Operations Officer, Mirum

Chris Daplyn, Chief Executive Officer, UK Group, Possible

Cleve Gibbon, Chief Marketing Technology Officer, Cognifide

Andreas Ortner, Head of Strategy, VML

Deborah Womack, Data and CRM Director, Ralph Lauren

A huge thanks to all of the above, without whose valuable expertise the evening would not have been possible.


Recent social and political upheaval has contributed to a significant decline in trust. Confidence in institutions is low, whilst the growth of fake news has seriously damaged the credibility of media. Brands, many of which are seen as part of the establishment, are not immune to this growing climate of distrust.

But saying that “the internet has eroded trust” is simplistic. The culture around our interactions with strangers has been totally upended by the web. Uber, Airbnb, Borrow my Doggie, and various social media sites, all facilitate intimate interactions with strangers. We get into their cars, we give them our addresses, we let them walk our dogs. This would have been inconceivable in 1995.

Therefore, it’s not fair to say that new technology has totally degraded trust. Rather, new technology has made our interactions more immediate and more intimate. As we cultivate more intimate experiences, more trust is required to enable them.

With new technologies, brands are able to cultivate more intimate customer experiences than ever before. The question is how to get past “post-trust” to make brands work.

Personalisation and the Lazy Brain

In theory, personalisation should be celebrated by the customer. The brain is the laziest organ in the body, and personalisation indulges it, shortcutting arduous processes such as sifting through irrelevant items, and working out how we can buy what we love.

Yet, media coverage has prompted us to adopt the reductive hypothesis that data leverage is wrong and is designed to take things from us. Datum, we are reminded, is the Latin to give. Brands will need to use the appropriate rhetoric to disassemble their customers’ guarded attitudes to data; and to make sure they use their data to give back.

Brands need to find a way to listen without eavesdropping.

To make things worse, no-one really knows quite what personalisation means. (Some suggestions from our audience: “relevance,” “relevance now,” and “creating a one-on-one relationship”.) But creating a one-on-one relationship with a customer base of millions will either cost a great deal or see creative work of degraded quality. More sophisticated segmentation is sometimes enough.

One way to leverage data is through infrastructural change. Teams should be assembled for specific customer demographics. Marketers, product designers, and analysts, should become ambassadors for their designated consumer, knowing the intricacies of their consumer’s journey and the life stages they pass through.

Brands, GDPR, and Data

It’s easy to trust an aeroplane not to drop out of the sky, even when you don’t know how the engine works.

Consumers now know that data breaches happen, and GDPR is starting to generate concern about data. But the concerns are vague. One speaker suggested than only 30% of the public had even heard of GDPR.

One temptation is for “data pilots” to start explaining the engine schematics to customers. But paradoxically, this tends to shift concern into panic. Why is the pilot promising the plane will work? Why are our banks, shops, brands, sending us bewildering messages about data?

One of the key challenges for brands is to stop the spread of data-panic. The consumer will know to question data usages and storage, without understanding the specifics. Customer services must pinpoint a rhetoric that can soothe the customer, but avoid technical jargon and legalese.

Could there be a skills gap here? Marketing teams, whose work GDPR directly affects, often don’t understand its mechanics. Their customer service counterparts work in an unrelated field. Can they be expected to navigate the concerns of a worried customer who wants their full data journey explained?

Too early to tell

We don’t yet know which brands have the right approach to data and which don’t. Will people prefer data to stay behind the scenes? Will visualisation of a customer’s data to customers be a parallel service line, alongside the main product?

Perhaps a “light” data collection approach is the correct approach; where brands only collect data on those hypotheses they know they want to test. Or perhaps a heavier approach could allow them to tease out those hypotheses, even at the risk of appearing to collect irrelevant data. "Heavy" data approaches also cost more.

Whilst general consensus suggests data-fuelled personalisation is key to delivering high value customer experiences, some people have reservations. A data-focused approach can sometimes be detrimental to the essence of a brand. AI uses algorithms to identify and follow key trends. Yet, a brand’s motivation is to set trends and inspire consumers to follow them, not the other way round. AI cannot adopt the ephemeral qualities of flare or creative expression. Not yet at least.

If you'd like to take this discussion further and delve deeper into the consumer/brand relationship, join us at the launch of out 'Future of Brands does Breakfast'series on Wednesday 11th July. 

Learn More Here

Written by Abbie McMahon and Adam Stead

Adam Stead is Nimbus Ninety's Senior Editor. Abbie McMahon is a Nimbus Ninety Membership Executive.

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