There has been a development in the “what lies at the heart of marketing’ zeitgeist over the many decades since marketing began – which as we know was long before it was actually called marketing. It started with trust. You branded something (literally in the case of cattle) with your signature, a logo or name, so people could recognize it as the one they knew and trusted because, and this will never change, people don’t trust what they don’t know in everything except religion.
I won’t go through all the various marketing zeitgeists – I am not old enough to have experienced all of them first-hand and too old to recall the ones I did with any accuracy. So let me just pick out a few. When brands became disintermediated – e.g. you chose them yourself off a supermarket shelf, rather than had them commended to you by a shopkeeper – USP became quite popular. Marketing was all about creating a unique point of difference. Somewhere along the line it broadened into a value proposition and this was believed to have some kind of emotional/functional ying and yang.
More recently, in the dawn of the “everything is a brand” age, we came to focus on the brand story and the brand ideals. The PR folk claimed this was good old reputation management but nobody listened to them because their ‘brand’ was somewhat tarnished by the likes of Max Clifford and Alastair Campbell.
I recall a brief rally around the idea of Love Brands. Marketing was all about delight and love and exceeding expectations. Hard to argue with that, other than perhaps to point out that 99.999% of brands are picked through inertia, hunch and familiarity rather than love (as opposed to only 50% of life partners).
Right now I’d say engagement is the mot du jour. Marketing is all about creating engagement – less through didactic, interrupt and repeat marketing communication and more though what brands actually do and how it gets reported in social media. Earned media is brand engagement’s marketing pay-off.
What’s coming next? What is going to become the ‘focus of marketing’, the ‘when it boils down to it, this is what marketers really do’ consensus among the chattering marketing classes (who chatter quite a lot).
Might it come full circle back to trust? The focus of marketing – apart from getting more people to buy stuff more often for more money or perhaps as a means to this? – might become earning, sustaining and building trust in a world that is increasingly mistrustful, or to dig a little deeper, in a world where trust increasingly comes from ones large and growing social cohorts and decreasingly from just about everything else. You can’t trust anything or anybody these days. Forget the establishment, the police and politicians, they are a complete busted flush pretty much worldwide. Celebrities lie like a cheap suit, some trusted family favourites have been revealed as kiddy-fiddlers. Every month brings some new story about drugs or corruption in sport. Newspapers have the morals of a gutter-snipe and the self-discipline of a recovering alcoholic in a brewery. BBC Director Generals resign having betrayed the trust of license fee payers. For goodness sake, even Tesco, the pinnacle of successful British Business, have been caught selling horsemeat in burgers (which as it happens means lots of young girls realized their secret dream of getting a Little Pony sadly without ever knowing it).
All around us trust is breaking down faster than Kate Winslet at an awards ceremony. You can trust what you read on Facebook or Twitter but very little else. Apart from, I would hope, your favourite brands if they are well managed by good marketers with good values and reflexes. (Regular readers will both know that this is a favourite theme of mine – good marketers have good reflexes).
Job one of a marketer is creating, deepening and widening trust. If I was running a large marketing department these days (unlikely I’ll grant you) I’d have that in a big sign above the coffee machine (or the Fusion Vendor). And when asked whether this is just a ‘point of parity’ rather than a ‘point of difference’ (assuming they were familiar with Kevin Keller’s simple but powerful positioning approach) I’d say point of difference. That is not because I am 100% sure it is, it may not be enough in itself to drive preference, but rather because a) it is more than enough to support inertia and b) if you get complacent and dismiss it as ‘housekeeping’ you risk losing it.
The challenge of being a Trust Manager not just a Brand Manager is that it has to be earned in lots of ways over a lot of time. It cannot be asserted. It requires that hardest of things, consistency, and this has to be maintained in a fast fragmenting and disenchanted world that pays more attention to the modern day equivalent of the ‘bloke down the pub’, i.e. social media, than anything else.
Trust me. I’m a Doctor. Well not since Jacko’s experience does that carry any weight. How about, trust me, I’m a Brand manager?