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Companies can build consumer trust by admitting they’re “flawsome”

10 April 2012 · By Kylie Davis

A new report suggests brands can nurture consumer trust by admitting their flaws and exhibiting some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humour, and humanity. In other words, by being "flawsome."

Being flawed, admitting your faults, and being up front and honest as you recognise you’re not perfect is the latest market trend winning businesses the enthusiastic support of consumers, according to new research from futurists, trendwatching.com.

At last, here’s a trend that newspaper companies will have no trouble embracing, surely?

The insights in the trendwatching.com report, titled “Flawsome,” supports the idea that newspapers — like many brands — need to change their tone. Not just because the technology is changing, but because we are at risk of losing our connection with all audiences if we remain stodgy, distant, and dull.

The flipside is that getting “flawsome” right is “awesome” for business.

“Human nature dictates that people have a hard time genuinely connecting with, being close to, or really trusting other humans who (pretend to) have no weaknesses,” the report says.

“Consumers don’t expect brands to be flawless anymore. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are flawsome; brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws and brands that some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humour, and, dare we say, some character and humanity.”

For years, newspapers have enjoyed a position of informed superiority. We have doled out information in doses as measured as we felt was good for our readers and enjoyed a position of expertise, understanding, and insight others were unable to replicate.

But online and social media communication has changed all that forever. The lecture has become a conversation; the conversation is fast becoming a quick chat; the chat is becoming a series of images or signals — frequently thumbs-up, thumbs-down.

And when you get a thumbs-down, the report argues, you embrace it and recognise the opportunity to connect. Apologise, be honest about what went wrong, find a way to delight to create resolution, and be rigorous in following through to make sure your solution works. You can’t hide anymore and will lose respect if you do.

“Consumers are benefitting from almost total and utter transparency and are thus finding flaws anyway as a result of the torrent of readily available reviews, leaks, and ratings,” it says. 

Characteristics such as honesty and immediacy are “driving consumers away from bland, boring brands in favour of brands with some personality.”

This is an idea many of us find an easy thing to adopt in terms of the tone and engagement that we have around our purely online deliveries — or free metro press — but it is a trickier proposition in print products that have, in some cases, hundreds of years of history and authority. And what about the space where we upload print stories to online and allow comment in social media. How does that play out?

In its report, trendwatching.com quotes research from Havas Media (November 2011) that shows nearly 85% of consumers worldwide expect companies to be actively involved in promoting individual and collective well-being — an increase of 15% from 2010. Yet only 28% of people think companies are working hard to solve the big social and environmental challenges.

“Consumer disillusionment at corporate behaviour has spilled over into outright disgust. As a result, any brand that can show business in a new light will be welcomed with open arms,” the report reads.

So getting this right — not just in how we conduct ourselves as we relate to readers and advertisers, but in the journalistic tone with which we cover stories of greed and bad behaviour — is equally important. Perhaps even more so as we are in a position of leadership.

In many ways, the advice is telling us not to throw stones if we want to live in a glass house — which, like all media outlets, we do. Like it or not.

The other good news — apart from the fact it’s OK, even cool, to make the odd mistake and ’fess up — is that consumers today are more and more aware that personality and profit can be compatible.

“With every business that succeeds while remaining reasonable, helpful, fun, or even somewhat human, consumers will become increasingly disenchanted with dealing with traditional, boring, impersonal brands,” it says.

Perhaps in trying to embrace this new style, senior executives should ask themselves, “What would Richard Branson do if he owned this newspaper media company?” Now, executing that answer really would be “awesome.”



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About this blog

Kylie Davis is the head of real estate solutions, Australia and New Zealand, at CoreLogic, the world’s largest provider of property data. She was previously the network editor of real estate at News Corp Australia, managing editor of business development at Fairfax, and founder of The Village Voice group of newspapers. Follow her @kyliecdavis.


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