The new traceability

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Flogging a dead horse - as beefAffordable “beef” that’s actually made of horse. Professional athletes who haven’t won what they’ve won legally. Acclaimed investors who turn out to be running Ponzi schemes … The great threat to claiming achievements going forward isn’t credibility. It’s incredulity. It’s disbelief that what one sees, that what has apparently happened, is true. It’s nagging scepticism on the part of investors and customers that the extraordinary must somehow have been artificially, or illegally, manufactured.

Such an atmosphere has enormous repercussions for brands, because of course brands generate much if not all of their value through trust. Evaporation of that trust creates two dangers. Brands either stop trying to be remarkable. Or they try too hard. They commoditise. Or they cheat. Either way, eventually they lose.

Such doubt also changes the rules for what companies need to communicate. Specifically, it suggests a shift in how companies and brands explain. There is little point now in announcing that you have pulled off the impossible (unless, as in the case of Felix Baumgartner, the  impossible can be clearly witnessed). Instead, brands need to be able to show why what has been achieved was possible. How was it done?

How can the “lasagne” be so cheap?

How can one man keep winning race after race?

Why are the new jeans even more affordable?

How did that newspaper know that much about that person?

How did that fund manager make that return?

The new traceability doesn’t pivot on whether a brand has met an international standard. It  revolves increasingly around proving the authenticity of the back story: how a brand has succeeded and still stayed on the right side of the ethical threshold. As the scrutiny around “success” continues to tighten, this will require a candour and a level of explanation, perhaps around methodology, that many will grimace at because it may mean disclosing what they have always held close. But it’s how businesses will increasingly be asked to explain what was once accepted as “almost too good to be true”.


Photo titled “Happy Horse” by nathanmac87, sourced from Flickr

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