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Brand Capital in an Age of Discontent

When there is an absolute crisis of faith in institutions in general, what’s an institution to do? 

The 100% rail – in the streets, in op-eds, in voting booths, on Twitter – about the “1%”, the “99%”, Goldman Sachs, the political system, or philosophic issues of the sort Umair Haque explores in his recent cri de coeur for HBR blog network:

“Today, while our institutions might just barely keep the people formerly known as the middle class from hunting large mammals with stone axes, they’re tarnished when it comes to many of the facets of a meaningful prosperity — security, fulfillment, connection, humanity, purpose.”

Harvard’s Michael Sandel charts the hidden, soul sucking costs of a price tag society in this month’s Atlantic, “What Isn’t for Sale?”:

“…without quite realizing it – without ever deciding to do so – we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.”

This recent optimistic piece by economist Philip Auerswald talks about the Steve Jobs-inspired young “black collar workers” who are after “purpose, not pensions.”  However, it is probably fair to say that most working drudges would love to have both a purpose AND a pension – it’s just in this age of exploding institutions they don’t expect to get either.

To hear them talk about it, everyone feels like a young, abused Oliver Twist.

General, systemic discontent and tech-enabled behavioral shifts are the zeitgeist; it’s no mistake that the themes of wrenching change, misplaced trust and grave challenge are being expressed creatively in popular series like Downton
Abbey
and Game of Thrones and movies like The Hunger Games.

Think about this from the perspective of your institution. How can a business respond to both the radical changes in the market as well as the human challenges in the wind? Without a doubt, the blue ocean opportunity of the moment is trust.

It follows that this is not a moment for ad campaigns and marketing speak.  It is a moment for voice. You want trust? Then what do you believe? How do you live it and operationalize it? What benefit do you bring to the table? And how will you fulfill your promise?

If you’re an institution that’s still standing, one assumes you’ve managed your tangible business assets aggressively. But how have you tended your intangible assets to create and communicate relationships of value?

Things like social impact, innovation and company culture can show, not tell the weary public/your employees what makes you tick and why they should again believe.

You can extract value, unlock value or provide value. Trust comes, or doesn’t, from the value proposition you follow.



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