Winning consumer trust through co-creation, transparency and typography
Trust is at a premium in our Dislocated World.
Sceptical consumers are rejecting traditional media and advertising communications in favor of transparency and truthfulness. People want to opt in and be part of a brand’s story, rather than feel they are simply being sold to. Against this backdrop, the whole concept of brand authenticity is being called into question.
In this report, The Future Laboratory has collaborated with leading font specialist Monotype and user-generated content commerce leader Olapic to explore how brands will navigate this low-trust landscape with co-creation strategies, ultra-transparent campaigns, and design cues that will enable disillusioned millions to establish more honest and intimate relationships with the brands they favor.
Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2016, ‘post-truth’, denotes circumstances in which claims that appeal to emotion and personal belief have more influence on public opinion than objective facts.
‘Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time,’ says Oxford Dictionaries' president Casper Grathwohl.
It’s a position that our society appears to have been heading toward after years of deteriorating trust among post-recession consumers. Disappointed and disillusioned, billions of people are turning their backs on brands and institutions that they feel have let them down.
A recent Media Research Center and YouGov poll shows that 69% of US voters do not believe the news media are honest and truthful. The past 12 months have signified the largest ever drop in public trust of business, media and NGOs, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2017. Public trust in government has fallen to 41%.
‘The implications of the global trust crisis are deep and wide-ranging,’ says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman.
‘Business is the last retaining wall for trust,’ adds Kathryn Beiser, global chair of Edelman’s Corporate Practice. ‘Its leaders must step up on the issues that matter for society.’
‘Business is the last retaining wall for trust. Its leaders must step up on the issues that matter for society.’
Meaningful messages will become one of the most powerful communications tools in this battle as businesses seek to restore battered consumer faith.
The key targets will be Generation Z and Millennials, the demographics who most dislike traditional one-sided marketing broadcasts telling them what to buy, eat and do. A study by The McCarthy Group found that consumers aged 35 and under don’t like advertising and are much more trusting of information sources that are not actively focused on selling messages.
Instead, trust-building will have reciprocal communications at its heart. A study by the Faculty of Behavioral Science of the University of Twente found that consumers are more positive about a brand, and are more likely to promote its goods, if they are allowed to co-create its products.
Perhaps even more importantly, shoppers are more likely to be persuaded to make a purchase by co-created content. Olapic’s Global Consumer Report 2016 reveals that 56% of consumers are more likely to buy a product after seeing it featured in a relatable user-generated image.
This research suggests a future in which brands will re-engage consumers through empowerment, enabling the exploration of new ways to personalize their digital marketing experiences through user-generated content (UGC).
This will be especially important for beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands that sell across different demographics with varying demands. Cosmetics brand NYX is demonstrating this future approach in action today.
‘Ultimately, if you allow consumers to personalize their own experience, this empowers them to pick what they want, without imposing it on them.’
In collaboration with UGC commerce leader Olapic, NYX is working to build trust in a market that has been heavily criticized for its Photoshopped images with ‘too perfect’ skin tone and finishes. NYX has responded to this criticism by building a library of more than 100,000 inspirational user-generated images of real people using NYX products.
The project has built trust with its customers while boosting sales: those who engaged with the UGC content converted to customers at a rate 320% higher than shoppers who didn’t.
‘Ultimately, if you allow consumers to personalize their own experience, this empowers them to pick what they want, without imposing it on them,’ says Olapic co-founder Pau Sabria. ‘In the future, this approach will allow brands to have different characters. It won’t be about one size fits all.’
Today’s most future-facing brands have a different, more authentic relationship with consumers that feels like a two-way conversation around the shared building, testing and launching of new products.
‘Digitally native brands such as Tesla, Google and Uber have a constant conversation with their consumers about how and why new products are developed and used,’ says Bruce Duckworth, co-founder of visual identity and packaging design agency Turner Duckworth.
‘As a consequence, people have a much closer and more genuine relationship with them than they have with brands that broadcast to them through traditional media.’
Such brands are breeding a different type of consumer: the New Evangelical. ‘These brands create a new kind of evangelical fanaticism among consumers,’ says Duckworth. ‘People who love Uber don’t just advocate it any longer, they insist you love it too, and help you download the app on the spot.’
‘People who love Uber don’t just advocate it any longer, they insist you love it too, and help you download the app on the spot.’
Uber’s provision of free introductory rides and discounts through recommendations to peers appears to be a major lure for the New Evangelicals.
‘I’m talking old-school word of mouth at the water cooler in the office, at a restaurant when you’re paying the bill, at a party with friends: ‘Who’s Ubering home?’,’ says Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. ‘Our virality is almost unprecedented. For every seven rides we do, our users’ big mouths generate a new rider.’
Uber’s rating system has also created competition among its drivers and users. Both chase positive ratings by the other to place them in good stead for their next trip. Crucially, through its rating system, Uber gains on-the-spot feedback about its drivers, and users feel rewarded for their involvement.
It will be essential for future brand communications strategies to create their own New Evangelical audience who can effectively recruit customers for them across the digital space.
Findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 show how powerful this strategy can be. The new study shows that a person ‘like yourself’ (60%) is now considered a far more credible source of information about a company than a CEO (37%) or government official (29%).
‘Newcomer brands will successfully strip away the traditional ways of communicating. They are less risk-averse and so ready to try new ways of talking to people.’
Eschewing old-school marketing spiel and fussy campaigns, brands will need to invite interaction by providing online platforms for their customers to review, critique and praise the company.
‘Newcomer brands will successfully strip away the traditional ways of communicating,’ says Olapic’s Sabria. ‘They are less risk-averse and so ready to try new ways of talking to people that allow them to evolve in a way that is fundamentally different from how traditional brands develop and grow.’
Chinese fashion app Lawo illustrates the way in which future brands will use these new communications to expand. Utilizing a fashion community to help its platform grow, the app employs a credit system that encourages people to pay for advice from influencers and fashion insiders, which in turn monetizes the start-up.
‘With the majority of fashion apps focusing on shopping, we wanted to create a social app that was first and foremost focused on providing a platform for users to obtain reliable and useful feedback in their quest to become more fashionable,’ says May Zheng, the creator of the Lawo concept.
Anyone can upload their own photos and hashtags to become part of a style movement or discussion. In addition, they can like and rate posts to boost their favorite influencers’ credibility.
Facebook has also opened the floor to users to shape its products and services – in this case its AI system, Jarvis. A video revealing plans for Jarvis called on Facebook users to give feedback so the company could build it according to their needs. To date, the video has racked up 25m views and more than 81,000 comments.
Two-way conversations will position brands as authentic, but such openness is driving another demand – for radical transparency.
In a digital landscape that offers no place to hide, consumers are demonstrating their intense dislike of the wrong kind of communication.
According to a 2015 survey by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 47% of US internet users and 39% of UK internet users have installed ad-blocking software on at least one device.
Aimia reports that 69% of consumers close down accounts and subscriptions and unfollow brands on social media to get away from irrelevant messages.
In a future landscape of extremes in which consumers refuse to engage with brands that fail to offer opportunities to contribute and collaborate, companies that focus on improving society and making our lives easier and healthier will receive higher levels of engagement and trust in return.
Of the 33,000 respondents to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, 56% of the public said ethical and open business practices are important to building their trust in a company. And early in 2017, FMCG business Unilever revealed 30% faster growth for brands in its portfolio with open and integrated sustainability practices.
Tomorrow’s brands will need to adopt ultra-transparent messaging as an antidote to a growing distaste for corporate messaging, second-guessing consumer reaction by creating an immersive and attractive marketing culture.
‘They will have to cut out a layer of spin and marketing designed to appeal to a particular demographic. Instead they will act as an online culture that is completely transparent to their fans, and richer the deeper you look into it,’ says Duckworth.
Arguably, transparency and authenticity go hand in hand. ‘Brands that are more transparent, and have an authentic purpose that consumers can align themselves with, are the ones that they respond to because they feel true,’ says Rodney Abbot, senior partner at creative consultancy Lippincott.
Healthy fast food chain Leon understands the connection between transparency and consumer trust, and doubled the number of UK outlets in the two years to August 2016. It welcomes good and bad feedback from its customers, using both to improve its products and service.
‘We’re very open about what we’re good at, but if we do something that’s not so good, we will acknowledge it and ask our customers for their ideas on how we can do better,’ says Orla Delargy, head of communications at Leon. ‘We’ll invite them back to challenge us in three to six months, to check we have done what we promised. It’s a process in which we trust people to come back to us too, and respond to what they’ve told us.’
‘Brands that are more transparent, and have an authentic purpose that consumers can align themselves with, are the ones that they respond to because they feel true.’
Such strategies are bearing fruit for businesses today. Outdoor clothing brand REI has closed its 149 stores on Black Friday for the past two years, instead paying its 12,000 staff to #OptOutside – enjoy the great outdoors and catch up with family. With a purpose that shuns spending, the campaign resonates with REI’s adventurous customer base. Its #OptOutside hashtag generated more than 2.7bn PR impressions after Black Friday 2015.
‘Truthfulness is what will define authenticity in the future.’
Another example is Australian fashion label The Road, which reveals how much its clothing costs to make, and how and why it applies its mark-ups. ‘Such truthfulness is what will define authenticity in the future,’ says Duckworth.
Outdoor brand Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles have been hugely successful by promoting its supply and manufacturing chain, labor policies, environmental impact and continuing efforts on corporate social responsibility.
The brand shares its positive and negatives, positioning Patagonia as an open and honest business that is doing well, but knows it can do better. Its sustainability-driven campaigns offer a warts-and-all template for others to follow in the future. Patagonia now enjoys annual turnover of about £478m ($600m, €561m) globally.
As Felix Morgan, senior strategist and innovation lead at youth marketing agency Livity, notes: ‘People don’t expect perfection from a brand. They expect honesty and good intentions, and the understanding that you are working toward doing the best that you can.’
All brands will need to develop an instinct for transparency to establish their authenticity in the decade ahead. ‘The question is, can mass consumer brands survive without having that direct, more transparent relationship with their customers?’ asks Olapic’s Sabria. ‘Our argument is that you probably cannot.’
‘People don’t expect perfection from a brand. They expect honesty and good intentions, and the understanding that you are working toward doing the best that you can.’
In the next decade, brands that aim to establish their authenticity credentials will amplify co-created content to relax control of their communications strategy and allow consumers to become part of their conversation.
Global advertising agency Y&R reports that more than 50% of Fortune 500 companies have already made co-creation integral to their innovation strategies. Brands successfully spearheading co-creation include Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Dell.
‘Authenticity is becoming more and more about evolving a symbiotic relationship with consumers, with brands shedding their fears about not having full control of their messaging,’ says Sabria.
Both coffee brand Starbucks and sports brand adidas have recently used symbiotic strategies to engage more closely with their customers. Starbucks’ #WhiteCupContest turned co-creation, quite literally, into an art form. The coffee brand invited customers to decorate its iconic white takeaway cups with doodles of their own.
A social media-driven campaign attracted 4,000 entries in three weeks, and the winning design was used on a limited-edition Starbucks cup. In Bolivia, the brand used another take on the same theme when an artist drew customer caricatures on white takeaway cups at a new store opening. User-generted images on social media spread word of the opening of the new Starbucks branch.
In late 2016, adidas launched #MYNEOLABEL, its first collection designed by its followers and made using tools on Snapchat. Positioning the project to Millennial consumers, adidas released a range of white outfits on Snapchat, asking its followers to design their ‘perfect adidas Neo collection’. After receiving thousands of entries, the brand chose four winners to have their designs transformed into an official collection, supported by a trip to adidas’ German headquarters.
‘Authenticity is becoming more and more about evolving a symbiotic relationship with consumers, with brands shedding their fears about not having full control of their messaging.’
Youth-led creative network, Livity offered a practical demonstration of symbiotic creativity with its Rethinkers recruitment campaign for Dyson. It created a subreddit forum for the campaign and left consumers to shape it in any way they wanted. It resulted in a 150% increase in visits to Dyson’s applications site, more than 200 separate job applications and 75% positive sentiment.
‘We gave control over to the audience and stood back to see what would happen. And it was successful because they had control of the narrative, not us,’ says Morgan. ‘The future is about establishing a relationship rather than staging a broadcast. A relationship – at least a good one – is a two-way conversation.’
It is these two-way conversations, the establishment of co-creation with consumers, that will enable brands to better understand which methods of marketing work, and which are ineffectual.
‘The future is about establishing a relationship rather than staging a broadcast. A relationship – at least a good one – is a two-way conversation.’
‘When a brand is willing to recognize the way it has been creating content is not the optimal one, that maybe consumers can also be creative and can hint to the brand what they want, that can trickle into new ideas, new innovations, and ultimately, create the dialogue,’ says Sabria.
Olapic adopted this approach when it teamed up with Crocs to showcase its range of casual footwear for men, women and children. Promoting the concept #FindYourFun, the campaign drove an increase in conversions and average order value, and resulted in thousands of images being tagged to the hashtag around the world.
Olapic describes Crocs fans as experiencing ‘a more authentic and connected community’, and the co-created campaign resulted in more than 1,000 products being tagged to relevant user-generated content.
‘Co-creation makes it, from a creative vantage point, a more personal type of relationship, again for the lack of a better word, a more authentic one,’ says Sabria.
According to Olapic’s Global Consumer Report 2016, 76% of 18–24-year-olds describe earned content as ‘more honest’, while the presence of real people in branded content emerged as a key component of authenticity for 33% of respondents in France and 37% of 18–24-year-olds in the US.
‘Eventually all brands will use co-creation with content that is created organically by the consumer and has a rawer, wilder aspect to it,’ says Sabria. ‘It’s hard to describe what it is, other than using the term ‘authentic’.
‘Eventually all brands will use co-creation with content that is created organically by the consumer and has a rawer, wilder aspect to it.’
‘First, it’s about knowing who you are, how you want to speak to your customers and what impression you want to leave.’
Beyond co-creation, typography is increasingly recognized as a signifier of trust and authenticity, and a tool to allow a brand to stand out from the crowd as a unique entity. But with thousands of existing typefaces, and the ability to modify font families and explore customised typeface creation, brands have such an abundance of choice at their fingertips that deciding on a direction can be difficult.
‘First, it’s about knowing who you are, how you want to speak to your customers and what impression you want to leave,’ says Dr Nadine Chahine, UK type director and legibility expert at Monotype.
Acknowledging the vogue for geometric, sans serif fonts, Chahine is encouraging brands to tread an alternative path, namely to step back and assess their DNA, products, services and target audience, to discover their voice.
‘Trust for a brand and its authenticity come from it having the right voice,’ says Chahine. ‘If you want to be different, be unique and stand out. You need to look different.’
The resulting font, whether an existing, modified or customised typeface, will effortlessly uphold this unique voice, becoming an additional signifier of authenticity and trust in the eyes of the consumer.
‘Typography and images, as well as products, attitudes and values, will all be things that define and differentiate companies. It is here that new design cues and fonts will come into full force,’ says Duckworth.
An iconic example of a font that epitomises a brand is Johnston, the font synonymous with London Underground and re-mastered by Monotype in 2016 to Johnston100, designed for Transport for London. During the project, Monotype added on-trend hairline weights to the Johnston font family. These were not part of the original Transport for London (TfL) brief, but were instantly admired and accepted by TfL.
‘This level of font recognition will become a must for brands seeking to future-proof their authenticity. A bespoke typeface will be the most powerful and ownable way of establishing it.’
‘The Johnston typeface speaks London,’ says TfL head of design Jon Hunter. ‘It has been around for 100 years. It will be around 100 more years, if not longer.’
‘This level of font recognition will become a must for brands seeking to future-proof their authenticity,’ says Olapic’s Sabria. ‘A bespoke typeface will be the most powerful and ownable way of establishing it.’
Beyond branded typefaces, the rise of co-created content will open the door to personalized fonts – those that consumers can switch between and edit by colour and size to express their thoughts, feelings and personality.
Through content-driven apps and social platforms, the ability to play with fonts will widen the appeal of brands and will help to direct their products to particular social groups or cultures.
‘Brands of the future will offer different fonts to evoke different marketing experiences for similar products,’ says Sabria. ‘Personalization will allow brands to have ‘flavors’, catering for various demographics in a more personalized way.’
These flavors will translate into a unique marketing experience and a more personal involvement with a brand or platform. ‘Put fonts at the disposal of consumers and allow them to pick the one that they want, instead of imposing it,’ says Sabria.
‘Personalization will allow brands to have ‘flavors’, catering for various demographics in a more personalized way.’
We are on the brink of a new era of trust and authenticity, requiring brands to take action and introduce communications strategies that go beyond slick messaging and catchy advertising campaigns.
Businesses with their eye on a digital future, where there is nowhere to hide from the scrutiny of tomorrow’s connected consumers, are obliged to build trust by showing trust. They are trusting that consumers will appreciate a transparent, warts-and-all image, that if customers desire a personalized experience, and are allowed to co-create a brand’s narrative, content and products, they will in turn become its loyal partners.
Design and typefaces, chosen carefully to reflect a brand’s DNA, will further cement this quest for true authenticity in the minds of the public, who, tools in hand, will help to communicate a brand’s unique voice through shared responsibility and a new vision for design.
As both a chief communication officer and agency executive, Kathy Beiser has worked across a broad range of global industries during her nearly 30-year career. Her experience has included developing campaigns to shape organizational culture and drive performance, leading corporate reputation and executive positioning programs, facilitating complex financial transactions, managing issues/crises and optimizing communication functions.
Most recently, Kathy served as executive vice president of corporate communications for Hilton Worldwide where she was responsible for global corporate and brand communications, executive positioning and corporate responsibility. Prior to Hilton, Kathy was vice president of corporate communications at Discover Financial Services. She also spent 20 years with some of the world’s leading public relations firms.
Kathy is a Trustee of The Arthur W. Page Society, as well as a former trustee of the Institute for Public Relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.
Pau Sabria and his co-founders created the world’s first earned content platform to help brands curate, activate, and analyze consumer photos and videos across all marketing and e-Commerce channels. Based in the company’s New York headquarters, Sabria oversees the company strategy and direction in the marketplace. He is a graduate of Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona with a degree in telecommunications engineering, and conducted his thesis in distributed video coding at Purdue University in Indiana. He then joined Boston Consulting Group, where he worked for three years and co-founded Olapic while completing his MBA at Columbia University in New York City. Sabria is extensively quoted in the media about visual social platforms such as Instagram, the future of e-commerce and how consumer-generated images will impact the way brands interact with customers.
Bruce Duckworth founded Turner Duckworth in London and San Francisco with fellow British designer David Turner in 1992 and in New York in 2016.
They won the inaugural Cannes Grand Prix for Design for Coca-Cola and were the first design company to have its work accepted into the Clio Hall of Fame.
Also picking up a Grammy for Turner Duckworth’s project with Metallica, Duckworth has also been chairman of judges for Cannes, D&AD, Clios, Design Week among others. He is currently President of D&AD.
Rodney is a senior partner in design based in Lippincott’s New York office. He has extensive expertise creating comprehensive brand programs that successfully translate business goals and brand strategy into expression and experience. Rodney’s background includes over 20 years at Lippincott where he has created numerous design programs for a diverse range of clients including Dell, IBM, Infiniti, Johnson Controls, Monotype, Nissan, Sprint, Sysmex, Tokyo Electron, and Visa. Most recently Rodney led the brand refresh for Southwest Airlines.
Rodney’s work has been featured in leading design publications and books, he has spoken and written on brand identity and his work has received numerous awards. He has been a senior lecturer at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, and is a regular guest critic at Yale University.
Rodney holds a B.F.A. in graphic design from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and an M.F.A. in design from Yale University.
Felix is senior strategist and innovation lead at youth-led creative network Livity. He has more than seven years’ experience advising blue chip brands including Livity’s current clients which include PlayStation, Unilever, Dyson, Netflix and Google on emerging behaviours. Felix specialises in strategic innovation and youth marketing.
He is an industry thought leader, having written for The Guardian, The Times, Campaign and more. He has won numerous awards for his work and is a regular speaker at events like Cannes Lions, SXSW, Digital Shoreditch and more.
Nadine Chahine is our UK Type Director and in-house legibility expert. For over 10 years, she has worked to expand our Arabic type library and lead our research collaborations with the MIT AgeLab. Nadine has an MA in Typeface Design from the University of Reading, a PhD for Leiden University, and continues to take part in eye-movement and legibility studies for Arabic, Latin and Chinese scripts. She has won numerous design awards for her work, and in 2012 she was selected by Fast Company as one of it’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.