• Transform magazine
  • March 31, 2020

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Five minutes with Claire Rigby

claire rigby headshot.jpg

Founder partner of Boardroom Consulting Claire Rigby talks to Transform magazine about consumer trust in brands, the need to endorse sustainability and how brands can become more relatable with digitalisation.

As showed by the Edelman Trust Barometer, consumer trust in brands is decreasing while consumer sensibility to how brands impact societal issues is increasing.  How do you help brands navigate the world and ensure they include in their brand strategy the issues real and relevant for the consumers of today?

As a consultancy we believe, and see increasing evidence to demonstrate, that we are entering a new era of branding – one that global consultancy Interbrand, have defined as ‘the age of you’.  As we transition from the age of experience to the age of you, two tectonic shifts in society are creating what we believe is a new paradigm for brand. Both the rise of the individualised customer journey, enabled through technology, in which the customer increasingly self-directs, self-curates and self-defines their experiences. Combined with the shifting demographics and changing societal expectations, are creating a new dynamic between people and organisations.

This is pushing new expectations and responsibilities onto brands, businesses and institutions whether they like it or not.  In this new era, audiences are increasingly looking for and rewarding, with loyalty, advocacy as well as their custom, those brands and organisations that connect to universal and personal values and have a positive impact on the wider world, not just their own business.  We like to talk about and describe this as a shift from the notion of the ‘brand idea’ – a universal, core idea that in the ‘Age of Experience’ drove coherence of experience across multiple channels and customer journeys -  to a recognition of the requirement, and value, of the ‘Brand IDEAL’.  

We believe a brand idea differs fundamentally from a brand IDEA in that it helps defines and articulate the role and impact that organisations, businesses or brands want to have in the world.  Beyond just the space they occupy or the experience they offer.  We firmly believe that to become and to remain real, relevant and relatable in this new era, brands need to be clear about, accountable to and consistent in delivering against their brand ideal.  Which means they need to have a clear sense of who they are, the role they play and why this matters, to the audiences that matter most to them.  

We work with leadership teams to help them do just that.  Working with a wide and diverse set of clients, across varied sectors – from national museums, to major universities, through to commercial start-ups operating at the leading-edge of health.  Helping them identify their distinct core competencies and consider the wider impact and specific role they can play in the wider world.  Ensuring they become and remain, real, relevant and relatable.  

How important is endorsing things like sustainability for a brand?

As I talked about earlier, society’s expectations of and on brands, businesses and institutions have shifted and continue to shift; and without doubt climate change and sustainability are now front of mind concerns for mainstream, broad audiences – we’ve seen this evidenced in numerous projects we’ve worked on recently for organisations as diverse as the Natural History Museum and Greater Manchester Combined Authority – as extremely relevant issues for mainstream brands in a way they perhaps weren’t even 3 years ago.   

Given this, my view is that climate change and sustainability are now ‘housekeeping’ factors for the majority, rather than a differentiator for the minority of brands.  It is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ ethical stance, but a commercial imperative.  However, in a world where it’s easy for audiences to determine whether brands are actually doing what they’re saying and to be able to hold them to account publicly, brands have to put climate change and sustainability at the core of the business strategy.  With real clarity on exactly how they can specifically impact positively and consider this in the context of who they are and what they do as a business.  If they do this and invest the time getting the strategy right, they’re more likely to commit over the long-term, to build and attract like-minded partners, to gain the trust and loyalty of audiences and ultimately to make a genuine, positive impact.  This is far beyond brands ‘endorsing’ issues and much more about them genuinely embracing them. 

What would you suggest to brands that want to make their identity more relatable and real?

To be and remain real and relatable requires brands to define and consider the role and impact they want to and are able to make in the wider world in a couple of different ways.  First, draw upon and be clear about core competencies and strengths to identity what is authentic and ensure any brand ideal is real for them as a business or organisation.  If it is authentically real, brands will be able to demonstrate this and audiences feel it.  Second, why should they and what they do matter, to audiences, and to the wider world beyond the business or organisation?  If brands define their brand ideal by considering these two crucial questions, they’ll ensure they remain both real and relatable.  

How can brands use an increase in digitalisation, especially social media, to their advantage i.e to be more and not less relatable?

If you agree with my logic and accept we’re in a new era of the brand ideal, and that brands need to be clear on their role and their impact. Specifically, in social media terms, this means seeking out genuine, values-driven as well as commercially attractive partnerships, relationships and agreements with influencers, other brands and like-minded customers and communities.  Values-driven relationships, by their very nature, help orientate actions and conversations towards authentic content, positive impact, genuine participation and collective action. With supporters and advocates influencing, reaching and positively engaging with others, on behalf of the brand.  There is plenty of evidence to show that this sort of positive advocacy is far more powerful and effective at convincing and persuading others, than paid-for endorsements and commercial influencer relationships (unless of course these are values-driven, as well as commercially attractive).  Especially given the increasing requirement and regulation around the transparency of these arrangements. 

How much of the organisational identity of the brand relies on who the brand is, what it stands for and how much is it shaped by its target audience or consumers?

The short answer is that a brand ideal needs to reflect an organisation’s true competencies and exploit and chime with the cultural context or tension; what it is that people care and feel strongly about.  So, they are shaped by both who the organisation is and what it does well, the sectoral context in which it operates and increasingly the cultural context in which people live and respond.  We often describe the nature of the consultancy we provide as being at the intersection of audiences, brands and organisational strategy.  With the models and methods we use helping leaders to explore and exploit competencies and wider context in equal measure. Ensuring that the resultant outputs – which we often refer to as “fixing the fundamentals of organisational identity’ – reflect the organisation, its audiences and the wider world.  Hence why we talk about boardroom as a strategy consultancy for our times.  

One of the other major benefits of fixing the fundamentals of organisational identity in this way is that we can then help organisations respond quickly to changing external events and attitudes.  Never more relevant than in the current coronavirus crisis. Brands that benefit from absolute clarity, and deep-rooted genuine confidence, in who they are and what they uniquely do, have been better able to quickly think of ways to innovate around the current issues and restrictions and continue to perform their role and deliver what they do.  Without that clarity on role, it’s far harder for organisations to innovate quickly and respond to external factors – especially for large organisations with many staff who require internal buy-in before being able to respond.