Content 2.0: Can Brands Be Trusted?

Content 2.0 Head-to-head Debate: Can Brands BeTrusted?

Content 2.0's head-to-head debate on June 6th 2006 sawinfluential thinkers and strategists on marketing and brandingAlan Moore and Shel Isreal discuss the reasons for brandmistrust and explore possible solutions…

Report Deirdre Molloy

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Alan Moore – CEO, SMLXL

We are a social species by design, Alan stated, and mobilecommunications especially allows us to go back to the socialfundamentals. He spoke of the pro-Am (professional amateur)revolution, and “curated consumption”, referencing his keyanalogy that Companies Are From Mars & Customers Are FromVenus. Alan cited Glen Urban of MIT who said that trust-based marketing is nolonger relevant in the era of consumer empowerment, and this isa problem for brands.

Brands need to be life-enabling, life-simplifying and navigable,he continued. It’s a different value exchange. It’s aboutpassion-based marketing and networked audiences. Michael Baylercommented that it’s a bloody tall order – how do we make ithappen and measure it all?

Shel Israel – author, NakedConversations

Shel said he disagreed with Alan only in regards tosome things about the future. He then looked at Dell and asked how many people in theaudience had ever owned a Dell computer [quite a few handsraised] and how many would be buying Dell in the future[practically none].

Shel explained that Dell has spent $25m on advertising but theirpopularity is declining. Media commentator and blogger Jeff Jarvis had a badexperience and discovered the Dell community of userschatting to each other online about Dell’s inadequacies, ie.people like me are telling me that Dell can’t be trusted anymore. They used branding to build a reputation over a decade butit all fell apart very quickly in a year or so.

It used to be that companies built company towns; now they buildgated communities to create monopolies. But from the other sideof the fence, we now have brand mash-ups.

“Ford tried blogging about improving their cars for 3 or 4 years… the engineers became the marketing guys”
– Shel Isreal, Naked Conversations

Alan countered that it is also about belonging. He told thestory of how the Tour de France was started up by a decliningnewspaper that came up with the idea and it became a massivefinancial success. The paradigm shift isn’t just about new mediaand social media, but also socio-economic shifts. Lego might not open their blogs tomorrow –but they might open them sooner rather than later.

Shel commented that he trusted people like himself. They caneven send me irrelevant products and I’ll still trust them, hesaid. Ford tried blogging about improving their cars for 3 or 4years, and you could follow them trying to make the enginesbetter and accelerate faster. The engineers became the marketingguys.

“We will create the reputation, not the brands themselves…”
– Sam Sethi, BT Web Services

SamSethi raised the potential of microformats(Wikipedia entry), whereby you can attachreviews, ratings and recommendations to brands – so we willcreate the reputation, not the brands themselves.

Michael Bayler spoke of the [very interestingnotion] of the brand as an aggregate of people like me. MarcCanter countered that you can buy trust – just take yourmarketing budget, hire some hackers and give away the code forfree.

Alex Barnett cited the case of Richard Edelman hiring A-listblogger Steve Rubel as Edelman PR’schief blogging consultant, but Shel countered that PR are rankedjust below lawyers in the trust ecosphere. Managers andmarketers might like to keep techies away from the frontline,but technologists are among the most trusted disciplines.

Alan Moore described how Bob Lutz is leading laterally within theorganization at GM Motors by being so transparent. This revealsa different window on a company and a brand, like Scoble [did]at Microsoft.

“Web 2.0 makes trust a two-way process, so it’s not just about what brands do you trust – companies and brands have to start trusting customers…”
– Miko Coffey, NESTA

Shel reasoned that marketing has such a bad rep because theykeep shovelling crap out the door and calling it quality. Alancited Rory Sutherland at Ogilvy, who is part of the Boeing open source development and feedbackcommunity. Compare TV ads and peer-to-peer recommendations – whodo you trust and which is cheaper, Alan asked.

All this underscores the need to listen to communities, Alansaid, and blogging and social media allows brands to hearincredible feedback. HBO built all their online sites off the backof community platforms, and have been developing the script ofTheSopranos on the basis of what the top 150 Sopranoscommentators say. Mini are also very involved in listening totheir customers and their conversations.

Last comments came from the audience, with the delegate from theScience Museum observing that it wasdifficult getting marketing to stop wanting roll-up posters andrealise the incredible value of social media. Miko Coffey of NESTA saidWeb 2.0 makes trust a two-way process, so it’s not just aboutwhat brands do you trust – companies and brands have to starttrusting customers.

Content 2.0 – 2006 conference website:

About Alan Moore:
Alan is CEO of SMLXL and co-author of the acclaimed book Communities Dominate Brands (Futuretext,2005) with Tomi Ahonen. As a creative business and brandstrategist, Alan has consulted for a range of global businessesand brands throughout his 16 year career, including the CocaCola Company, Saab, Nokia, H&M, and Diageo. SMLXL producecross-platform communication strategies and campaigns, operatingat the intersection of business strategy, interactivetechnology, and media and marketing communications. He has alsowritten a series of articles: From Customer to Community, The Story Of Mobile Versus TV, and Digital Immigrant Or Digital Native? forNMK.

About Shel Israel:
Shel Israel writes, speaks and consults on blogging, innovationand communications for an occasional living. He has recentlycompleted the book Naked Conversations – how blogs are changingthe way businesses talk with customers,' with the legendaryRobertScoble as co-author (Wiley–January 2006). Shel describeshimself as a "recovering publicist". He used to own aPR agency specializing in tech startups, and was involved in theinitial launches of Sun Microsystems, PowerPoint, Filemaker,SoundBlaster, Napster, MapInfo, Virtual Vineyards and quite afew others.


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