Marketing’s Biggest Challenge starts NOW

Marketing's Biggest Challenge

Unable to sleep one night, I mindlessly scrolled Instagram. The platform’s algorithm learned I love nature and served up the most mesmerizing video of butterflies in a rainforest. The vibrancy and patterns of the wings seemed surreal. And I wondered … is it real?

This will be the number one question facing marketers, beginning right now. The future of misinformation and deep fakes we’ve been dreading is here. This is our life from now on.

Is it real? We’re hurtling uncontrollably into the AI Era, and most of the time, the answer to this question will be “no.”

And if you can’t assure your customers of what’s real and what’s true, you’re cooked.

Let me explain why your marketing department’s biggest challenge starts now, and why the solution is not easy or cheap.

The world is upside down

My email inbox was getting filled with requests for me to complete secure online contracts. However, I’m not expecting any contracts at the moment, so I worried they were fake.

I have a friend who is an executive with the secure document company, and I asked her how I could tell if these contracts were fake or not. Indeed, she determined that all the emails were phishing scams, and she pointed out several nuances within the emails that could have been clues to their inauthenticity.

“But how would I know?” I asked. “When I see your company logo within an email, shouldn’t I be able to trust it?”

“We’re aware of the problem,” she said, “but it’s up to the consumer to detect fraudulent activity.”

When have we ever been in a time where the customer is responsible for quality control? The world has been flipped upside down. And that’s just the beginning of the problem.

The word of this decade is TRUST

100 percent human contentThe Edelman Trust Barometer has demonstrated a decline in trust in nearly every institution for the past 15 years. To make things worse, no company, no brand, no person is safe from deep fakes. News of how a Hong Kong firm was fleeced out of $25 million by fake video avatars was all over the news recently.

Let’s go back to the secure contract dilemma. This executive is telling me I cannot trust any email containing her company brand unless I train myself to detect fraud. (She recommended that I attend an online training program.)

Let’s think this through. Are we really going to count on the world following directions on how to detect fraud just to use our service? What kind of a marketing strategy is that?

Of course this is not just a document or contract problem. Nearly every bank and credit card company has been the victim of these hackers. It makes the days of the Nigerian Prince scam look quaint.

A solution

For the solution to our problem, let’s look at an example of a brand that was nearly destroyed by bad actors that had nothing to do with the company.

In 1982, five people died from swallowing Tylenol capsules laced with a lethal dose of cyanide. Before the crisis, Tylenol controlled more than 35 percent of the over-the-counter pain reliever market. Only a few weeks after the murders, that number plummeted to less than 8 percent. The dire situation, both in terms of human life and business, made it imperative that the Johnson & Johnson executives respond swiftly and authoritatively.

The company didn’t shed blame or place the responsibility for safety on consumers. It issued mass warnings and immediately called for a recall of the more than 31 million bottles of Tylenol. They offered replacement capsules to those who turned in pills and a reward for anyone with information leading to the apprehension of the individuals involved in these random murders.

Johnson & Johnson developed new product protection methods and ironclad pledges to do better in protecting their consumers in the future. Working with FDA officials, they introduced new tamper-proof packaging, which included foil seals and other features that made it obvious to a consumer if foul play had transpired. These packaging protections soon became the industry standard for all over-the-counter medications.

Even though Tylenol did not cause the deaths, the company paid millions in cash settlements to the victim’s families and made provisions to pay for the college educations of eight minor children of the victims.

Within a year, and after an investment of more than $100 million, Tylenol’s sales rebounded to its healthy past, and it became, once again, the nation’s most-trusted over-the-counter pain reliever.

Marketing’s biggest challenge

What’s the lesson here?

Steve Jobs famously said, “A brand is trust.”

This implies that you can’t have a brand without trust. Let that sink in. You can’t have a brand without trust. 

If I can’t trust the document signing company, the company no longer has a brand.

Visa and other credit cards will no longer have a brand.

Wells Fargo and other banks will no longer have a brand.

I recognize this is an enormously complicated issue. But I also have no tolerance for a company telling me I need to fix their problem by attending a training program on fraud prevention.

These companies (and maybe yours) need to act like Tylenol. Spare no expense to protect consumers. Spare no expense to protect the trust associated with your brand.

Spend whatever it takes to fix this. In the case of the secure document company, they could:

  • Invent a fraud detector app. If they can send me a pdf with fake contract warning signs, they can put the same prompts in an app.
  • Give me a browser extension that detects and flags fraudulent emails that contain the name of their company.
  • Let us log into a secure portal to sign docs — like what tax preparation companies or wealth management companies offer
  • Partner with the top email providers like Microsoft and Google to send these little spam-demons to their own special DANGER FILE.

Come on. There are options. You can do this. And what the frick ever happened to the whole blockchain authenticity promise?

Soon, there will be no choice

Here’s what’s happening in the world. If companies don’t get ahead of this, they will be regulated into protecting their customers.

Last month, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) issued a proposal to make banks and other institutions bear the responsibility of phishing scam losses ahead of victims (thanks to my friend Alan Ling for passing this along).

The proposal sets out a list of “discrete and well-defined duties” for these companies, making them liable to pay if they have fallen short of their responsibilities. These duties include the failure of banks to send outgoing transaction alerts to consumers and the failure to implement a scam filter.

Authorities hope the framework will strengthen the “direct accountability” of financial institutions and reduce phishing scams in the first place.

Won’t every country move in this direction?

The secure document company should be held to the same account as Tylenol. A company cannot place the responsibility for brand trust on its customers … especially customers who are too busy to take your fraud prevention training. And let’s be honest — I can’t follow directions any way.

I love this document company. It has made my life so much easier. I love online banking, tax preparation, and eCommerce. But the whole stack is about to crumble if we can’t trust them.

When your customers ask you, “is it real?” what will you tell them?

Need a keynote speaker? Mark Schaefer is the most trusted voice in marketing. Your conference guests will buzz about his insights long after your event! Mark is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books, a college educator, and an advisor to many of the world’s largest brands. Contact Mark to have him bring a fun, meaningful, and memorable presentation to your company event or conference.

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Illustration courtesy MidJourney

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