“Trust – The Brand Currency for the New Generation of Consumers”

Posted By: Lilach Felner|Dated: April 28, 2014

 Marketing professional Lilach Felner in conversation with Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director, Mahindra Group on the importance of building trust within communities

Noted by Fortune Magazine as amongst the world’s 50 greatest leaders, Anand Mahindra is the Chairman of the Mahindra Group, a US 16.7 billion dollar federation of companies spanning multiple industries from Automotive to Finance to Aerospace. He has more than 1 million followers on Twitter and is the only Indian CEO to be listed in the inaugural ‘World of CEOs.com’ 2013 ranking of the ‘Top 30 CEOs on Social Media’.

Felner: What is your attitude towards building customer trust now a days? Do you see trust as a key success factor?  

AM: Over the past few years there has been a sharp erosion in customer trust with the corporate world. In general, customers have been yearning for a different mindset among companies, one which encompasses a new and expanded role for business in the wider community – a mindset of creating shared value. Consumers are gradually gravitating toward organizations and brands that reflect this growing aspiration for social awareness and change. Across many of our businesses, be it electric vehicles or affordable housing projects, we are trying to collaborate with the wider eco system to co-imagine and co-create a better future. I think, trust, in the form of Brand fidelity, is not just important, but central to the continued success of any organization.

Trust isn’t a commodity that can be purchased. It is an asset that must be earned

Felner: Compared to 10 or so years ago, to what extent do you think the business environment has changed? Do you think the CEO rankings of challenges have changed? In what way?

AM: In today’s world, especially since the global financial criss, there is a growing trust deficit in many walks of life.  People are yearning for icons they can trust- be they leaders, organizations, or brands. Fortunately for us, trust isn’t a commodity that can be purchased. It is an asset that must be earned, usually through a proven track record across many generations. Companies with a sustained focus on building and implementing ethical business practises when dealing with key stakeholders have the best chance of earning this trust. This is a significant change and I feel that companies and brands that are able to overcome this ‘trust barrier’ of consumer confidence will be the ones that will be able to reap a ‘brand premium’ and succeed in the current business environment.

Felner: What is a trustworthy company? In the eyes of its customers? In the eyes of its employees? Could you give examples from Mahindra?

AM: Consumers today appreciate that every company needs to make profits if it has to survive and grow. But the manner of achieving those profits is what differentiates a trustworthy company from others. Consumers see a company as trustworthy if in the course of making that profit, the company also contributes on a wider canvas – to its employees, customers and local community. Similarly employees see a company as trustworthy if its stated values articulate fairness, transparency and trust and if they see these values consistently reflected in its treatment of employees. In the  Mahindra Group, we try to earn the customers trust by living our Rise philosophy and making it the guiding force in all our business decisions. Rise also empowers our employees and partners  to become change agents in their communities. On the employee front, we have a clearly articulated set of Core Values, and the value of the dignity of the individual, nurtured by fairness , trust and transparency is clearly set out. We measure ourselves on this through a variety of mechanisms , including employee engagement surveys conducted by Gallup and metrics like CaPs (Customer as Promoter) scores.

Felner: Do you think that earning employees’ trust is a prerequisite to gaining customers trust?  

AM: Absolutely. An organization needs to be internally convinced about what it stands for before attempting to convince others. Speaking from our own experience with the ‘Rise’ journey, it was our colleagues across the organization that held the mirror up to us and helped us rediscover the ‘Rise’ pillars of accepting no limits, alternative thinking and driving positive change. Once we articulated these attributes, it unleashed a hidden energy within the organization. My colleagues were convinced that the Group was indeed with them in wanting to change society for the better and was willing to empower them to deliver that goal. That energy has since galvanized the group, converted employees into evangelists and brand ambassadors and provided them a new degree of confidence in their customer interactions.

We have realized that we will rise only if our work helps our stakeholders to rise with us.

Felner: Given the tsunami of transparency, the erosion in consumers trust, we can find many companies that are increasingly trying to create better relationships by doing good. We can see companies that partner with non-profits and customers, fundraising drives and events to benefit communities. Some say that this is only to distract attention away from otherwise rapacious behaviour towards consumers. What do you think about that?

AM Corporate social responsibility today does risk being perceived as a form of tokenism at the periphery of the business. However thankfully many organizations, like ours, believe that it is indeed possible to do good and to do well at the same time and to have such a philosophy at the very core of their business strategy. Such organizations are conscious that the interests of business are congruent with the interests of the wider society. At the Mahindra Group, our ‘Rise’ philosophy dictates our strategic and portfolio choices. As a result, we are engaged in businesses that create shared value, be it electric mobility, rural finance, affordable housing , renewable energy or attempts to deliver farm tech prosperity. The profits we realize by driving positive change within our wider communities enable us to grow and keep driving positive change, thereby creating a virtuous cycle. We have realized that we will rise only if our work helps our stakeholders to rise with us.

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 Lilach Felner
About the Author:  Lilach Felner is an Israel based marketing professional, with over 15 years of experience, helping multinational consumer brands build trust. Her Trust-Injection Model has been included in the book Trust Inc.

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