Stephen Spencer

Growing trust by shrinking your say-do gap

Listening to a podcast the other day I heard a quote that stuck in my head. “We have a president with a huge say-do gap, and it hurts U.S. credibility enormously.”




Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was a guest on the Freakonomics Radio Podcast episode ‘Speak Softly and Carry Big Data’. The focus was on how big data sheds light on big questions and can help countries like the U.S. make better foreign policy decisions. Questions like, do economic sanctions work? (almost never), are big democracies any good at spreading democracy? (nope) and what’s the root cause of Terrorism? (not religion).


Linking credibility, and therefore trust, with a narrowing of words and actions is nothing new. In the marketing world we talk about it a lot. About why it’s important to tangibly demonstrate purpose and the pitfalls of inauthentic communications that are divorced from brand behaviours. In an era characterised by a lack of trust in organisations and brands (and governments for that matter), taking the time to figure out what your audience really values and then taking action to add value seems like an obvious road to success and growth; high-trust companies consistently outperform their sectors over time (by 5% in 2018 according to the Edelman Trust Barometer).


But what I found more interesting about the comment on Trump’s ‘huge say-do gap’ was the inherent tension between short term vs long term objectives and thinking. It felt very relevant to marketing and the ‘pitfalls of short-term tactics over long-term strategy’ argument that lights up my inbox and LinkedIn feed most days.


By now we’re all well versed in Binet & Field. We know that big emotional brand advertising drives top of funnel metrics. We know that these ads also improve the effectiveness of content and performance activity lower down the funnel. But we also know that it takes ages (approximately), and a lot of investment, to measure this stuff. Whereas tactical, often digital, results are quick and relatively cheap to get hold of. So we optimise short term against the stuff we can measure. The irony being, so the argument goes, this might be the stuff that ends up killing the brand down the road. Like pulling out of a nuclear deal because the narrative works for your audience short term.


But short-term tactics aren’t inherently bad. They are after all what drive long-term strategies. The real issue is that that short-term tactics are often simply not aligned with longer-term thinking, and the teams responsible for the respective disciplines are often disconnected. As highlighted by research carried out by the FT and the IPA.


Therefore, the opportunity seems very simple on the face of it. Disproportionate growth awaits brands that can better connect long-term and short-term thinking. So, how do brands do this? What is it that links today’s actions with tomorrow’s desired destination?


The answer also feels pretty simple and intuitive. Customers. The current ones and the future ones. Developing a more sophisticated view of the people who buy or might buy your brand, and using this information to inform both long term and short term thinking, isn’t a groundbreaking concept. But theory and practise often make uncomfortable bedfellows, especially when it comes to data and insights.


To succeed, marketers need access to new tools and techniques that help them understand audience culture quickly and objectively. They need actionable data that can be used to inform decision-making at different levels of marketing. Whether that’s informing purpose (re)development, positioning or creative platform ideation - right through to content strategies, creative briefs and activation. Crucially, this data has to be defensible (i.e. observed at scale) and consistent to drive joined-up thinking across the brand.


At Codec we help brands break down mass audiences into discrete cultural networks, which we call Tribes. We do this by analysing content engagements to identify different groups of people with shared interests. E.g. Within a broad demographic target there might be a Tribe of HipHop fans, as well as a Tribe of Sustainable Fashion lovers and a Tribe of Cosplay Gamers (look them up). Understanding these different groups in terms of their personalities, wider interests, content preferences, sources of influence, platform behaviours etc enables marketers to develop a more sophisticated view of the real people who they can recruit through relevant engagements.


Importantly, cultural data and Tribe insights help marketers make more confident decisions at all levels of marketing. Higher order themes that connect seemingly disparate groups of people help shape long term strategic planning, whilst more granular insights help shape the short-term thinking that drive strategies forward.


At Codec we think of Tribes as untapped growth networks. Identifying and unlocking the ones that are relevant to your brand is the key. Once you’ve done this, figuring out how to add value to their lives is easy. The outcome is increased credibility and trust through continued relevance and actions that add value over time. Outcomes which we know tend to result in sector-beating brand growth.


Find out more about Cultural Tribes in our report

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