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19 November 2019

Why brand marketing is the most powerful form of democracy

On the 26th of May, we voted for the Belgian federal and the regional parliaments. 6 months later, we’re still waiting for a federal government, and it looks as if it will take a while before an agreement is reached on what the future of our country should look like. 

Belgium is not the only country where the political landscape is experiencing turbulence, and where politicians are more concerned with honing their debating skills than with moving things forward and preparing our society for the challenges ahead. Just take the Brexit soap opera, the Catalonian question or the impeachment procedure against Donald Trump – not one day passes without news updates on at least one of these topics.  

POV_Why brand marketing is the most powerful form of democracyNo wonder that the trust in governments is at its lowest ever ebb. Does this mean our democratic system needs to be overhauled? Maybe. But that’s not the point I want to make in this post. As a marketer, the question that I’m asking myself is: what is the impact that we, as marketers, can have? During his talk at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Richard Edelman stated that brand marketing and democracy have more in common than you might think.  

In Belgium, federal elections take place every five years. This means a voter can express his or her opinion only twice per decade. It stands to reason therefore that, when it comes to the broader debate on issues like the environment or equality among people, a consumer’s weekly purchases make more of a difference than their vote every five years. 

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that 81% of the 16,000 respondents declare that a major consideration when purchasing a brand today is “I can trust the brand to do what is right”. This result equals the importance attached to usual product attributes like quality, value, convenience or ingredients.  

Do brands pass this trust test? No. In the same research, just one in three respondents said that they trust most of the brands they buy and use. Only 21 percent of respondents know from personal experience that the brands they use keep the best interests of society in mind. 

So where do we go from here? First of all, brands need to practise what they preach: show clear proof of your ethical behaviour instead of just communicating about it. Ethical behaviour goes beyond the production process of your product, it’s also about how you handle your consumers’ data and privacy or about using marketing automation in a responsible way. 

Secondly, brands are still focusing too much on traditional advertising. Consumers are increasingly adept at avoiding advertising (ad blockers, skipping ads when watching video content, etc.). A 2019 survey shows that consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 have more faith in what an influencer says about a brand rather than what the brand itself says in its advertising 

Thirdly, as a brand, it’s better to appoint a spokesperson who is recognizable for your target group, in order to gain more trust: a ‘person like me’ or an expert inspires a great deal more trust than a celebrity.  

There is no doubt that brands have every opportunity to make a difference in consumers’ lives and in the society they care about. To earn consumer trust, marketers must back up their brand promise with concrete actions. Consumers are aware that brands have the power to effect real change, and they will put their trust in brands that use that power on their behalf.