By: Nick Gold, Managing Director at Speakers Corner
The relationship between brands and their customers over the last 18 months have been challenged in ways that could never be predicted. As the structure within our personal and professional lives was turned upside down, the pandemic induced lockdowns created time for individuals to reflect on the purpose, belonging and relationships in their lives.
I believe individuals have realised that their persona isn’t just how they present themselves, but also how they act and the communities they belong to. They have looked at the brands they interact with, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the activities they partake in and have come to the understanding, through the challenges they have faced during this period, that they want these brands to represent and mirror their beliefs. They want their brands not to represent materialistic goals, but rather as authentic partners in their life journey.
In turn, brands have realised that their customers have evolved, and the aspirational living era has been supplemented by a seize the moment attitude of embracing life as it exists before us now. This dawning of a new age has shaken brands to evaluate themselves, how they act, and what their values are and ensure that these two aspects are aligned.
Authenticity Binds Customers and Brands Together
For many companies, there has been a dawning realisation that whether they were practicing what they were preaching or partaking in activities which both customers and employees wanted to be part of, the word authenticity came over more to the fore. Companies understood the starting place to this journey to a more authentic place was through education rather than a presumption of knowledge. The aspirational goals or values that might have existed within a business no longer had any worth unless they were actually striving towards them.
This new realisation for business has arrived in companies at all stages of the spectrum of company profiles and at time has caused companies to re-evaluate their position in the business landscape. They might have been brands who shouted loudly about their values, who demonstrated flash mob understanding of contemporary issues but when the surface was swept away, too often, the reveal was that this positioning was from a brand perspective as opposed to a living perspective.
Brands had to take a fresh dose of humility, move away from the tub-thumping rhetoric of a recent but bygone era, and understand they were making baby steps to actually live and breathe their beliefs and values.
Brands Need Objective Views To Stimulate Authenticity
The problem sometimes with a period of self-reflection, especially for those in a position of authority, power or leadership, is that when seeking advice, consultancy or ways forward, is that to gain a true understanding or insight requires viewpoints from people or organisations who have no ‘skin in the game’ or ‘axe to grind’.
An internal focus, even with dedicated individuals with a wealth of experience, suffers from the ability to take an objective view as they are already part of the fabric of the organisation. An external consultancy relies on the model of further work and as such, can sometimes be caught in a dilemma of pure objective for fear of jeopardising future opportunities. Companies are looking for a kick-off moment which can educate, challenge and inspire them to discover how they can go from being a company that believe in the values and authenticity of their brand to a brand who lives authentically those values.
This kick off or scene setting is something that we have seen in society since the dawn of the internet specifically through the advent of the world of spoken world. TED bought the 17-minute speech to the masses, speakers became the modern-day rock stars as they clocked up millions of hits of their speeches, and audiences enjoyed learning, being challenged, asking questions about who they are and how they think so they can improve and grown.
And this is the place that companies find themselves in. They can bring those external voices into the organisation, so no longer is it one person listening to speech that happened previously, but rather, it is the collective being challenged and inspired by great speakers who are thinkers and experts in their fields.
Shaping Authentic Brand Engagement
External speakers, who are there to make an impact in the moment, asking the questions and challenging assumptions, but most importantly ensure the company exit the session with a pathway forward for them to navigate their brand. The session should give these companies an understanding of challenging the way they act, the way they interact and the way they behave to ensure these tallies with the company’s beliefs and values.
The other impact a speaker can have is on us as individuals, whether we are at the session in the guise of an employee of the company or as a customer, these inspirational personalities with their stories, with their knowledge and with their questions can give us hope and guidance. They have the ability to both make us understand what we are lacking but also make us believe what we can achieve.
For any speaker who has the ability to leave that indelible impact on everyone who attends it, the brand who have embraced this speaker and given them the platform to share their message and stories will be intrinsically associated to that moment and further strengthen their authentic voice in the conversation.