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In Episode #11 of OneMoreQuestion, Ross sat down with Uno De Waal to chat about brand credibility and how the right kind of collaborations between brands and creatives can help to build it. 

When we talk about brand credibility, we mean the trustworthiness of the brand in the mind of the consumer. High levels of trust have huge influence over people’s purchase decisions — consumers are more likely to select brands that they trust over brands that are perceived to be the expert at what they do.

There is no shortcut to building peoples trust in a brand — it’s gained over time and can be destroyed overnight. You need to ensure that your messaging and brand experiences are consistent and that they meet customer expectations. This makes people feel that you are aligned to their values or that you are the best solution to their problem.

It can be a long process, but building brand credibility and, in turn, brand equity can help create a sense of familiarity and trust, allowing you to form a loyal customer base and access more revenue when consumers are looking to spend.

In his book, Managing Brand Equity, David Aaker says that brand equity is not only valuable to the brand, but also to the customer, as it helps them interpret and process information and it can positively affect the quality of the user experience.

It’s valuable to you and your customers. Let’s build your brand equity.

It’s easy to think of brands that have built up positive brand equity — the likes of Apple, Patagonia, and Toyota have strong associations to innovation, sustainability, and reliability, respectively, and these can help maintain sales even when innovation has slowed or products are being recalled

In contrast, we have seen how negative brand equity has affected Uber, and more recently how Facebook received pushback when it announced that it wanted to rebrand Instagram and Whatsapp as ‘from Facebook’ (it’s not like they own the two platforms and have access to our data, anyway).

Brand equity is becoming harder to manage and consumers are expecting more from brands than ever before. More attention is being paid to the role of businesses and brands in society, and this is forcing them to consider their social and environmental impact, along with the direct impact they have in the lives of their customers. Brands are being forced to state their purpose, live their values, and take up an active role in society — some are doing this very well, others are missing the mark.

Making the most of credibility

Understanding your brand’s credibility, how to use it, and how it can stretch is extremely important. Consumers are astute at picking out when brands aren’t living their values or being guided by their purpose and they’re even better at calling brands out. 

If a cause is not something to which your brand has a strong connection, it’s better to keep quiet and focus on your market, lest your message and efforts are seen to be contrived.

Colin Kaepernick, a Nike sponsored NFL player, polarised himself when he decided to kneel in protest during the National Anthem of the United States — as an individual, he made a public statement about his values. At the time, Nike was a partner to the NFL (giving them credibility in the space) and had considered dropping their sponsorship of Kaepernick as keeping it may have harmed their ongoing partnership with the NFL.

Instead, Nike was brave enough to double-down, take a closer look at their values, and support Kaepernick by making him the face of their 30th-anniversary Just Do It campaign.

It was a risky move. When the campaign first launched, some of Nike’s customer base burned their Nike merchandise or cut the logo off their clothing, some threatened to boycott the company, and Nike’s stock price saw an initial dip. Weathering the backlash, Nike led the charge of Brand Activism and showed brands how to find a voice on important issues.

24-hours after the campaign was launched, Nike had received more than $43 million worth of media exposure and in the four-day period after the campaign had launched, Nike’s online sales jumped 31%.

Nike was brave and they took a big risk when supporting Kaepernick, but they understood where they had credibility and how their brand equity could stretch to important issues.

When brands don’t understand where their credibility lies or how their equity can stretch, they risk what FluxTrends refers to as Brand Backlash — a perfect example of this being Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad.

Brands need to be extremely careful about both the issues they choose to stand behind and the execution thereof. Superficially “politically correct” brand activism and marketing messages can easily backfire into a public relations nightmare.

Flux Trends

Pepsi’s well-intended advert through which they aimed to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding not only fell flat but ensured that they received a fair amount of backlash from an astute public and well-known public figures like Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter.

The problem with Pepsi’s approach was that they stepped into a space where they had no credibility. They weren’t known for supporting activists or protests and they weren’t brave enough to take a stance on movements that were taking place at the time. This was evident in the final product of their advert — from the vacuous protest posters and terrible product placement, right down to Kendall Jenner’s photoshoot awakening and miraculous change of wardrobe before handing a police officer a Pepsi as part of our common humanity (not to mention her lack of activism credentials).

As a brand, if you haven’t built the right credibility or your message isn’t sincere, there’s a good chance that you’ll be called out for your lack of understanding or for trying to co-opt a message or movement. If you still feel a strong need to enter unchartered territory — for important social commentary or accessing a new market — a partnership or collaboration may be the best route to take.

How to collaborate

Entering a new market is daunting, regardless of whether you’re entering with an established product or something that’s new-to-market. It can be more daunting if you’re entering with an established brand and are risking backlash or reputational damage.

Influencers can be a shortcut to gaining exposure or increased brand awareness, but influencer marketing is an area that needs to be approached with caution and consideration.

The influencer market has been inflated by an infatuation with likes and followers, and where brands previously would have approached influencers in an attempt to reach a new market, seem credible, or drive sales, they are thinking twice about what likes, followers, and reach mean to their bottom lines.

Mike Stopforth said it best when he joined us on OneMoreQuestion, “What we know about influencers and influence, none of that is influence at all.”

If your only goal is increasing reach or brand awareness, then an influencer with a large following may be what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking to build credibility and stronger relationships with a new customer base, you would achieve greater ROI and create more impact through collaboration or thought leadership.

By choosing to collaborate with artists and thought leaders, you are engaging with people who care about a specific industry or topic and have a vested interest in moving it forward. They have expertise and knowledge specific to their industry and as a result, their knowledge and insight can help you create a stronger message and give more to their community, while also giving your brand a platform that other brands may not have been able to access.

If you are thinking of collaborating with an artist or thought leader, the best advice we can give is to go in without any preconceived notions. If you are planning to send them a list of pre-written content and have them mention your brand in every third post, you’re going about it the wrong way (and it’s not really a collaboration).

To get the most from your collaboration, Uno De Waal suggests you start by observing and answering the following questions:

  • Themes — what’s happening in the space? Are there any shifts or powerful themes that you can find?
  • Thought leaders — who are the people that are driving the agenda? What are they saying?
  • Fit — of the thought leaders or artists that you want to work with, who speaks to the purpose and values of your brand?
  • Function — how can you partner with them? 
  • Your role — what can your brand bring to the community or audience to improve their lives?

Collaborating is almost always a longer play for brand credibility. You have to start small, but as you show support, investment, and that your brand is able to add value in your chosen space, you begin to build brand equity which helps create a sense of familiarity and trust, allowing you to build a loyal customer base and access more revenue when consumers are making a purchase decision.

Don’t be a Pepsi. Make sure you’re in the right space and sending the right message. We can help you start with Purpose.

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