Short term: Trust vs Distrust – What is at stake for brands, corporations and executives? Guest Post by @Olivcim

In my eyes and in the wake of the disruptive digital force shaping our present and near future, building and nurturing trust and influence with all your stakeholders is one of the very key issues that any executive should put first on his/her strategic agenda. As a crystal-clear proof, take a look at The Edelman Trust Barometer, which has been substantiating this critical trend for almost 15 years. In many countries and not only Western, there is a sustainable and growing distrust towards politicians, media but also companies and anyone else embodying the “establishment” or the official “knowledge”. With its lowered technological barriers and the ease of creating transnational relationships, brands and corporations live in a networked society that totally reshuffles the cards at a blistering pace. Citizens can get access to much more information than they were allowed in the past. As a direct consequence, it also raises awareness about the on-going issues and makes things trickier to hide or manipulate.

This assessment matters for corporate brands as well as product brands. People no longer take things for granted when a brand or a corporation speaks. People require to be heard and involved in projects that impact their own lives, backyards or aspirations. People expect to be part of the solution. As an example, you can refer to palm oil. People are increasingly paying attention to social and environmental topics. Consumer goods firm Unilever, acting on the demands of tens of thousands of consumers, is committed to purchasing all of its palm oil from sustainably produced sources by the end of this year (2015). And if you try to fiddle, the likelihood of being caught in the act is higher and higher. Especially by activists and NGO who are at the cutting edge of digital connectivity.

A few years ago, fostering trust was probably a bit simpler as the main intermediary was the journalist. The latter has become suspect for many reasons. Among them, narrative bias, sensationalist reporting or complacency with the mightiest (politicians, corporations, governments, etc.) are often fiercely criticized. This is why nowadays it is not enough to only focus on them although media relations remain pivotal in a strategy. You must talk and actively listen to NGOs, groups of interest, regulators, employees or anybody concerned by your activities. If you don’t do that, you put your reputation at risk and might trigger distrust against your activities.

The incredible Volkswagen fraud story provides a relevant case study. For several years, this company has hammered strong messages about “clean diesel” at the corporate and brand levels towards consumers; but also to their own collaborators and the various stakeholders in the markets in which they’ve been operating. It turns eventually out that the company cheated on purpose by using a specific software reducing gas emissions on demand during approval tests. Despite millions and millions spent on advertising and public relations, it shows that cosmetic communication is pointless. Even worse, it generates distrust at the end of the day. And today, the German car manufacturer has to fight not only against justice, regulators and media but also car dealers, car owners, NGOs, class action groups who loudly express their concerns.

Nowadays, almost anybody is able to know something and unveil it all over the world through social networks, online petitions or even whistleblowing platforms because they want to call to action. From now on, the challenge is therefore to restore the damaged trust and reputation of the company by acknowledging what needs to be said, by taking concrete actions to abide by the laws but also by proactively listening to the concerned stakeholders and meeting some of their requirements. It will take time and money but there is no loophole. Sacking the CEO was a good first decision for Volkswagen, but the controversy is far from being over. Today, they are under close scrutiny from whoever is concerned. They will have to make the right decisions leading to a refurbished but trustworthy reputation. And I bet my two cents that similar stories will occur at other companies if distrust remains at these high levels. The winners will be those inspiring trust by leveraging a smart dialogue with their stakeholders.

Olivier-Cimeliere futureproofOlivier Cimelière
CEO Heuristik Communications, a consultancy based in Paris
Author of “Le Blog du Communicant” (in French)

Futureproofing Against The Disruption of AR and VR – Guest post by Olivier Cimeliere

Augmented & Virtual Reality – Is it a fad or a sustainable trend?

Virtual reality (VR) is clearly in the process of becoming a trend for communication by brands and by corporations. In North America, the content in virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) is increasingly integrated into the communication strategies of the major groups. And, at times, we are seeing VR experiences being enhanced with what might otherwise be considered “augmented” elements, i.e. clickable links within the virtual space. Although for a long time, the VR technology was reduced only to video games, it is now trying to prove itself as a conduit to other types of audience. That’s why Facebook did not hesitate to spend $2 billion in 2014 to buy Oculus Rift, a helmet that allows navigation in virtual and augmented content. This will change the way we communicate.

For brands and businesses, the benefits are many. First, offering virtual reality content has the advantage of positioning the brand as innovative, the better to differentiate oneself against one’s competitors. It is a remarkable (i.e. stand-out) activity for customers. This is a crucial point in time because we live in an era of information overload where the netizen’s attention is volatile and fragmented. Then, with virtual reality, one can offer an immersive experience where the user really feels in touch with the content they are viewing and with which they can even interact. For example, by opening a video clip or changing the point of view of a building or a landscape. Editorial possibilities are tremendous and are capable of being adapted according to the communication issues or targeted communities. There are new features that enhance the impact of the information you want to share. It is generally estimated that 80% of our attention span is primarily visual! These new devices have, therefore, their whole reason for being as part of a more comprehensive communication strategy.

A few examples

I will cite four examples to show that virtual reality can relate to very different sectors.

  1. The brand of sportswear and hiking, North Face. They have developed a mobile app that is also available in 3 shops in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Thanks to a sophisticated 360° video capture, a customer can experience an immersive virtual hike in the famous Yosemite park in California or in the Moah desert in Utah. The idea is to entice people to buy the equipment in order to go enjoy this type of hike for real. The app was a great success in 2015, with 15,000 downloads on the Google Play platform alone!
  2. The Marriott hotel chain. They needed to become better known to younger audiences and thus designed two different VR experiences. The first took place in a London street where they offered passersby the opportunity to escape for a moment by being transported on to a beautiful beach in Hawaii for 100 seconds! The second instance was made available in certain Marriott facilities. It is a program called “Vroom Service.” Residents were able to request a special helmet and then – from the comfort of their hotel room – virtually wander around with another person in one of three dream destinations, in Chile, Rwanda or Beijing. Then inevitably the guest is tempted to book another trip!
  3. The NGO, Amnesty International. In exchange for a donation, passersby in London were allowed to wander virtually through a virtual reality helmet in the ransacked city of Aleppo, Syria, crafted through the photos and 360° video made by a group of Syrian citizen journalists. It was an effective way to raise awareness of the dramatic situation in the country.
  4. The chain of real estate agents, Nexity (based in France). They opened in November 2015 a connected agency in the heart of Paris. The particularity of this agency is to be able to visit a prospective property through the Oculus Rift technology. Virtual reality allows a visual immersion throughout the selected apartment or house, providing a very different experience and saving the customer precious time. The client can, thus, better refine his/her choice and visit on site only those properties that hold the biggest interest, rather than traipsing across town to see locations that did not deserve the trip.


The trend of virtual reality is clearly going mainstream. A concrete sign that times are changing: manufacturers, such as Sony and HTC, are also marketing virtual reality helmets. Although the video gaming area continues to lead the way, there is no doubt that the proliferation of this type of device will democratize access and the technology will quickly spread to other sectors. In particular, the media are starting to be more prolific users. In early November 2015, the New York Times distributed 1 million free VR cardboard goggles to subscribers and also launched a specific app with the intention of adding a monthly documentary. The US news agency Associated Press (AP) also just dipped its toe in the VR pool with a movie on the Calais shantytown in France, where thousands of migrant refugees from Africa and the Middle East had taken up camp. Meanwhile, Google intends to bring VR to the masses. Last year, they announced that YouTube would support video formats in VR and that viewers will be able to see all the YouTube videos via the cardboard goggles.

The firm, CCS Insights, recently published a report in which they predicted that 24 million VR compatible devices would be sold worldwide by 2018, representing a market size of approximately $4 billion. In terms of market segments, video games will continue to dominate according to financial analysts, hitting $1.4 billion in 2025. However, two other heavyweights, the NFL and the porn industry should generate, respectively, $1.2 billion and $1 billion.

Virtual reality is far from a techie fad or only for hard-core gamers. For brands and corporates, this technology provides very interesting opportunities to cultivate the relationships with their audiences. It’s an alternative way to gain greater proximity and deliver impact and foster engagement via a visual experience.

Olivier-Cimeliere futureproofOlivier Cimelière  @olivcim
CEO Heuristik Communications, a consultancy based in Paris
Author of “Le Blog du Communicant” (in French)