What unites an integrated marketing platform company, a sex toy retailer, an apparel store, a national provider of health services, a product design studio, and a leading enterprise video communications company that offers cloud platforms for audio and video conferencing events? Brand and content strategy consultant, and author Margot Bloomstein, in her upcoming book, “Trustworthy”, reveals how a few companies, rising beyond the tried and tested amalgam of growth and profits have made a difference not just to their reputation, but also to the very marketplace in which they operate and compete. In a world where stories of obfuscation of trust and dereliction of duties regularly adorn the front pages, Ms. Bloomstein’s book lends a ray of hope and informs its readers that the only way to run a company need not, and is not either the Volkswagen ‘defeat device way’ or the Wirecard ‘accounting scandal way’. Businesses can be managed the ‘Mailchimp way’ , or the ‘Zoom way’ or even the ‘Lovehoney way.’
The companies profiled by Ms. Bloomstein in her work, unflinchingly and uncompromisingly adhere to the tenets of what she terms as the three “Vs” – Voice, Volume, and Vulnerability. Each of these elements enable a company to be courageous, transparent and engaging in interactions with their customers. Voice “refers to the distinct personality that manifests visually and verbally in everything your brand does.” Volume in its simplest sense, as Ms. Bloomstein informs her readers, refers to “how much you communicate, in both length and level of detail.” Vulnerability means owning up to ones mistakes, embracing criticism, accepting feedback and continuously striving to improve both the brand and the product.
When Antsy Lab’s iconic product, Fidget Cube’s delivery was delayed on account of an unprecedented order volume and shipping/logistical hurdles, the McLachlan Brothers kept their customers informed about the details of not only the potential shipping dates but also elaborate details of the glitches and obstacles plaguing Antsy Labs, and which led to a delay in the release date of the much awaited Fidget Cube. This level of transparency and degree of honesty, although while rankling a few disgruntled customers, also elevated the status of Antsy Lab as a trustworthy and reliable partner from the perspective of a majority of their backers and customers.
The FBI in an attempt to engage various stakeholders with a view to enhance security and curb crime, has undertaken a revolutionary overhaul of their content and design. The manner in which they communicate has undergone a paradigm change where jargons are abhorred, and an element of simplicity introduced. Thus as Ms. Bloomstein elucidates, SrS and NIBrs have made way for Summary Reporting System and National Incident-Based Reporting System. Similar is how the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom has pared its content from a humongous 75,000 pages to just around 3,000. The NHS has also radically altered the manner in which engagements are undertaken with the patients. Doing away with ‘nominalizations’ (“process of making a noun from a verb or adjective to describe a process or concept), the focus is on transparency and simplicity:
“Nominalization: The test results are an indication of an infection
Verb-driven phrase: The test results indicate you are infected.”
NHS also takes care of granular details such as even the typography to be used. The NHS homed in on “Frutiger”, the typeface used by most of the public transport and infrastructure services providers such as JFK International Airport, Amsterdam Airport, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit, and Warsaw’s Zarzad Transportu Miejskiego transport authority.
Whilst at times it pays to keep things simple and uncomplicated, there are segments of the customer populace where the devil does not lie in the details. A comprehensive and elaborate information network that embeds a two way communication channel between the company and the customer may be a sacrosanct requirement. America’s Test Kitchen provides monument to this aspect. “The average recipe developed by America’s Test Kitchen goes through 30 tests and eight test cooks who represent different specialties, preferences and areas of expertise. Equipment recommendations endure the same rigour.” America’s Test Kitchen targets neither the nouveau rich nor the consumers of Michelin Chef delights. Novice cooks, skilled home chefs, amateur and professional bakers are their customers. Hence the instructions for a recipe and the cooking process itself is illustrated in exhaustive step-by-step details in their publications. However, on online digital platforms such as say Instagram, length makes way for discerning abstraction. Resorting to “a more action-oriented style of photography to bring viewers into the process and behind the scenes – notes, spills and all. As Jack Bishop, chief creative office in the company explains, “no one wants a 30-minute story on making a croissant on Instagram. But if we are testing coolers and sawing them in half? That’s perfect for Instagram. It’s fun for that platform. We work to create the right content for every platform.”
A similar strategy is also followed by Crutchfield, a North American retailer specializing in a wide range of electronics, including mobile audio and video equipment for the automobile. Their extensive collection of product information, a maniacal attention to even the most granular details and an enviable catalogue akin to Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalogue” in content and quality, perfectly positions them to not just enable a customer buy a product but also to make a perfectly, informed and well thought out decision. As Ms. Bloomstein articulates, Crutchfield aligns its customer strategy in such a manner that it dovetails with the requirements of the expert and the rustic alike. While a seasoned customer is not drowned in a whirlpool of information, the uninitiated enjoys a whole range of helpful guiding aides such as buying guides, category introductions, product reviews, and personal trip log-style posts.
Ms. Bloomstein’s book is a timely and welcoming endeavour highlighting the exemplary measures which select businesses adopt in order to carve out a reputational niche in a competitive and globalized market. It is also an inspiring lesson for new start ups and emerging businesses to emulate. For winning the wallets and hearts of a customer, cheating is not a prerequisite. Possessing the right intentions and a customer centric bent whilst driven by an innate philosophy of core values and ethics might just be the right recipe. If you do not trust Ms. Bloomstein, you better ask America’s Test Kitchen!