Key takeaways

  • Trust – or a lack of it – has emerged as a salient factor influencing the quality of the relationship between business and customer.
  • 58% of global CEOs are worried that a lack of trust in their business would harm their company’s growth.
  • To build and retain the trust of their customers, purpose-led businesses need to articulate and communicate their values through every customer experience.

We’re seeing a paradigm shift in the way organisations and individuals relate to each other.

It’s come about in response to a world where information now flows unimpededly – where anybody can say anything to anyone, anywhere, at any time; essentially, one in which certainty has taken a hit.

At the centre is trust, which has emerged as an exceptionally important factor underpinning the relationship between business and consumer. This is especially so for the younger generations – millennials and Generation Z – of whom 43% say they rank authenticity over content¹, meaning they won’t engage with a brand’s content if they don’t trust them.

It’s not just digital natives. Everybody now places much greater importance on the name behind the product and the values and attitudes it represents. With our private habits and tastes more prominently on display than ever before on social media networks, our choice of brand now says something about who we are.

This isn’t lost on the C-suite. PwC’s 20th CEO Survey, released in February 2017, revealed that 58% of global CEOs worried that a lack of trust in their business would harm their company’s growth – up from 36% in 2013.

Superficially, this is an issue of communication, or how to show to their customers who they are and what they stand for through brand, image, advertising, customer relations and content.

None of that helps, however, if the message isn’t right, ill-considered or completely unknown. What values does an organisation have? ‘Making money’ might impress the shareholders, but reaching today’s consumers requires deeper introspection.

The deepest kind, in fact. For customers to feel happy identifying with a brand, that brand needs its own identity, one that’s authentic and positive. That starts with discovering, defining and articulating the organisation’s purpose.

Turning to
purpose-led business

Purpose is not a marketing idea, it’s a company idea – and it drives the entire organisation. Essentially, it’s that unique identifier that answers why the brand exists and defines how the customer experiences the brand. Purpose touches on how a company operates and delivers its social impact and its shared values.

We call organisations that have a clear sense of purpose ‘purpose-led organisations.’ These businesses don’t just pay lip service to a cute slogan, being purpose-led means making every effort to ensure that all decisions and actions taken by business leaders – be that with customers, employees, suppliers, partners, shareholders or the wider community – fully encapsulate and transmit its values.

For our surveyed CEOs – 87% of whom believe social media could negatively impact on the level of trust in their industry over the next five years – the biggest challenge will be figuring out how to externalise those values into a meaningful brand that’s delivered in an authentic and real way. Consistently connecting with customers is especially poignant as emerging technologies and automation take them into previously uncharted customer-facing territory.

What does your brand
stand for?

With purpose, values, meaning and brand in alignment, that message must carry through every point of interaction with the outside world: websites, content, advertisements, even the helpdesk script.

Businesses hit the sweet spot when those expressed values can, through association, say something positive about the customer. When customers get a strong sense that ‘your values are my values’, when they believe the company’s commitment to those shared values is genuine and that communicating that bond to their peer group says something desirable or favourable about them, or simply engenders a feeling of pride, that’s when the magic happens. It brings the brand to life.

PwC 20th CEO survey - trust

92% of global CEOs agree on the importance of a strong corporate purpose. (Click to enlarge.) Source: PwC’s 20th CEO Survey.

The future is

I feel as if the shift toward purpose we’re now seeing is one of a number of examples lately that demonstrate an encouraging change in the way organisations relate to the public. Whether it’s businesses and their customers or governments and citizens, it’s the human element that’s now, happily, coming to the fore.

We seem to be getting over the idea that satisfaction has a price tag. The acquisition of wealth as an end in itself has already begun to seem pretty quaint. We want balance. That’s because, ultimately, we are creatures of meaning. We seek meaning in our lives above all else.

Purpose, in the context of business, is the realisation that companies have always sold more than what’s inside the packaging. My hope is that as western society proceeds on its collective journey toward knowing itself, we’ll see it transform into one that reflects who we are, what we want to be, and serves us in the ways that we really need.



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Vanessa Brennan

Vanessa Brennan is a former partner in PwC Australia’s The Experience Centre.

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