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Balancing Opportunity and Social Responsibility in an Age of Uncertainty

Posted by: Graham Hales on October 22, 2012

PhilipsThe current economic climate has left consumers around the world nervous and unsure of the future. In many countries, aging populations are putting further financial strain on the economy, the provision of services and younger generations. Across all ages, these trends indicate that, more than ever, people need support to take care of themselves — and, in some cases, brands can provide such support.

As headlines around the world confirm, the impacts of social and economic realities are being felt more in some industries than in others — particularly in financial services, pensions, and healthcare. By building trust and creating emotional ties, brands can secure loyalty and provide services that address consumers’ distinct needs. The strength of such relationships is one of the keys to building long-term financial value.

There are three primary ways that brands can foster trust:

Authenticity

There is great opportunity in today’s climate for brands that embrace authenticity, including financial services brands. The role that financial services play in rebuilding our economies is of inestimable importance, yet consumers have lost faith in the integrity of the sector. Beset by scandal after scandal, from the Libor rate rigging to Standard Chartered violating sanctions policies, the embattled sector and many of the brands within it, have succeeded only in deterring consumers with their recent actions.

To rebuild trust, genuine corporate citizenship is absolutely vital. Financial services brands need to truly embrace sustainability, work to make a positive impact on communities, promote sustainable finance and improve the global economy. There is plenty of room in the sector for a financial services brand to tangibly demonstrate an authentic, brand-relevant commitment to socially responsible value creation.

Rewarding loyalty

The second way brands can build a closer bond with their customers is by showing respect, or rewarding loyalty—something the pensions industry needs to address. While it’s crucial to save for retirement, many consumers, especially those of younger generations, just aren’t engaged by their pension brands.

Tainted by their broader association with financial services, the perception is that providers offer poor returns, aren’t transparent, and don’t reward a lifetime of saving loyalty. Even more damagingly, in the UK, a report this year revealed that providers were actually deliberately misleading customers about hidden costs and charges.

Pension brands need to be more proactive, discussing not just the benefits of saving, but also the necessity of saving, in a more forthright manner, engaging in an adult conversation with consumers. Once pension brands have earned consumers’ respect in this way, they must work hard to build much closer relationships with their customers by recognizing the value of those who save with them for a lifetime.

Rewarding loyalty will not only encourage continued consumer participation and help consumers feel more secure, but it simply makes good business sense. In the UK, private health brands such as PruHealth take this more proactive approach, rewarding members with benefits for healthy living through points-based schemes, making it easier for them to look after themselves now and in the future.

Employing technology

In today’s digital world, brands need to make sure they are employing technology to get closer to their customers. With the global healthcare market predicted to reach USD 4.1 billion by 2014, this sector, in particular, is increasingly utilizing technology in the quest to remain cost-effective. Recent reports indicate that high percentages of doctors are regularly using smartphones and medical apps to better communicate with patients and improve treatment and medical outcomes.

Electronics giant Philips has already picked up on the trend and has released consumer mobile apps designed to empower people through education as well as health monitoring. Surely, brands will be needed to intermediate in this new digital health landscape, but when it comes to providing and receiving healthcare, people want to work with brands they trust. It’s brands like Philips — brands that can demonstrate leadership and agility as the landscape evolves—that will get to own the relationships in this space.

In short, financial services, pensions and healthcare brands need to act. If they don’t put more effort into building stronger connections with end users, then lifestyle brands that already have such connections will come in and fill the void.

Sensing just such an opportunity, last year, Ford announced a health and wellness management extension to its in-car computer, SYNC, which takes advantage of the time people sit stationary in their cars and is designed to improve drivers’ lives as well as their driving experiences. The Ford car of the future will, most likely, be trusted not only to get drivers from point A to B, but to give drivers a richer, more enhanced driving experience.There is no doubt that brands play an enormous role in peoples’ lives and it is time to take that role more seriously, especially as brands become more intricately embedded into our daily experiences — from life saving medical devices and important communication tools, to pension plans and financial policies.

Ford

In this era of economic and social uncertainty, people want and need support in many parts of their lives — and, more than ever before, they rely on brands to find solutions, make life easier, safer and more enjoyable. However, consumers will only put their well-being in the hands of brands they trust. People worry about finances and their health more than anything else, so, in these areas, it is especially necessary for relevant brands to put their consumers at ease and let them know they’re covered.

Repairing strained relationships, rebuilding trust and communicating authentically and transparently is critically important right now. Brands that work hard to give consumers peace of mind will generate value and position themselves for leadership in the decades to come.

Graham Hales is the CEO of Interbrand London and Rupert Faircliff is a Consultant at Interbrand London.




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