Why and how communicators must protect their brands from ‘techlash’

Technology’s increasing presence in the marketplace has more and more consumers voicing ethical concerns and posing tough questions about those companies’ stands on key issues.

People want to trust that their favorite companies put societal needs and values before their business interests.

However, the more powerful a company grows, the more cautious consumers become, and they start asking tough questions. This has happened several times throughout history, and the current technology backlash, or “techlash” as it’s been dubbed, is no different.

As the tech industry makes up an increasingly large chunk of Fortune 500 companies, the software and solutions they provide touch almost every aspect of our lives. Yet, whether it’s due to questionable behaviors and scandals or our natural distrust of powerful conglomerates, consumer trust in them is waning.

A recent survey by Pew Research Center found that a third of U.S. adults believe technology companies have a negative impact on the country. These companies are under more scrutiny and face even more challenges when it comes to their reputations.

For communicators, this techlash brings new challenges as tech companies work toward organizational legitimacy, and addressing societal concerns is at the forefront.

Consider these stats: 84% of respondents in a Cisco survey said they care about data privacy and want more control over their data. Of this group, 80% said they are willing to act on these desires, meaning they’ll spend time or money to protect their data and that an organization’s ability—or inability—to do so drives their purchase decisions. Among these respondents, nearly half (48%) have switched companies or providers over their data policies or sharing practices.

People expect truth, transparency, and choice—especially when it concerns their data or has an impact on their lives—and it’s up to companies to proactively address these concerns and communicate them from every level of the organization.

To modify the perception of their brands, tech companies must reevaluate how they align with deeper social values. Companies embracing their ethical roles in the greater good of society at large can develop more meaningful and trustworthy connections with their audiences while safeguarding brand reputation.

Not only is consumer trust paramount, but it can also boost the bottom line. Companies engaging in purpose-driven marketing tend to have a more loyal customer base. In a recent study, respondents from Generation Z say they value brands and products that champion societal and environmental benefits. Gen Z consumers also are not averse to boycotting companies they view as doing harm.

If you represent a tech brand, your activities should be approached through a lens of trust and transparency. Whether it’s a crisis communication plan, branding and positioning strategies, corporate social responsibility programs or content marketing, your relationship with the public should be explicitly stated and understood by the masses. Those who put the values of society and the needs of the people before their business interests will come out stronger in the end.

Keith Donovan is president of Airfoil Communications.

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