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Is Your Client’s Brand in a News Bubble?

A hot topic in journalism right now is the concept of news bubbles. During the recent election season, many people became immersed in daily coverage of the topsy-turvey, controversy-fueled campaign. But it is now being argued that most people received news within their particular bubbles of pre-selected, personally compatible media, or from those closed groups of people with whom they shared personal views and values. Even journalists seemed to hear and report on only what agreed with their own preconceptions. A similar bubble effect could be an issue for brand managers.

Many brands are in their own “news bubbles.”

It is very easy to push content, marketing and sales messages at customers, while ignoring customer feedback and social media conversation. This can lead to ad agencies and their brand clients being blindsided by outcomes they could have seen coming, and prepared for.

In reading about the news bubble issue, I stumbled on this phrase: incestuous amplification. This is what happens when the people in a closed group repeat the same news, opinions and ideas to each other, and when acceptance into the group becomes dependent on agreeing with the group’s preconceptions. The assumption that “everyone knows this” (i.e., agrees with this) becomes widespread within the group, prompting the group to ignore outside voices offering differing perspectives.

While we see this increasingly in politics and the news media, it is also a problem in corporate cultures. When it bleeds into brand management, it becomes agency business, and a big concern for brand positioning and development.

Trust erosion is now at critical levels

Edelman, the global communications marketing firm, annually issues findings from its Trust Barometer survey. Its 2017 report reflects the upheaval in economic, social and political spheres around the world.

Trust in business at an historic low (as is trust in government, non-government organizations and media—a first since Edelman began tracking trust perceptions in 2012). Yet survey respondents also have greater faith in business’ power to “make things better” through improving economic and social conditions in the communities where those businesses operate. Edelman warns that business is on the cusp of a steeper decline in trust if companies fail to address concerns among the workforce, including the potential for job loss due to globalization, immigrant and outsourced labor, and automation.

Edelman also noted in their overview that more trust is placed in employees than in company CEOs. That means the voices given least weight in company decision-making are also the voices most likely to impact perceptions of companies and brands. In many companies and businesses, employees are outside of the bubble guiding brand decisions… and are also among the people whose trust in all institutions has so steeply declined. This will increase the need for strong inward marketing and careful alignment of business actions to brand values. It also demands that brand bubbles be punctured now; leaders need to pay attention to voices that may impact severely on profits and competitive positioning.

Ad agencies must be informed outsiders

Engaging in incestuous amplification—essentially dwelling in their self-generated bubbles—means brand managers may become so vested in what they believe to be perceptions of the brand, and other brand advocates so supportive of this view that they ignore conflicting reports from the channel, end users, and yes, even their ad agency’s research.

It is agencies’ job to make sure brand leaders listen to opposing views and understand that, while we can steer brand perceptions, forces beyond our control can alter the course of those perceptions. If we’re not paying attention to voices and perceptions from all directions, client brands can be hit by a runaway train at the next crossing of the brand journey. It’s difficult to defend or reposition a brand when unprepared.

Agencies must function as interested third parties in brand development, arguing on behalf of end users, whether those individuals are people in the sales and distribution channel, employees, customers, influencers or the general public. End user perceptions have a greater impact on brand success than the perceptions of managers and internal company advocates. Brand perceptions are in the mind of the consumer, not solely in outgoing messaging.

Work hard to avoid becoming encased in existing brand bubbles. Bubbles are pretty, but all too easily punctured. It’s the agency’s role to pop clients’ brand bubbles. Our bubble-popping will be far less painful than if employees and customers hold the pins.

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