Three top tips for de-risking your fashion brand's B2B channel

If ever any sector has demonstrated a determination to survive and thrive through adversity, it’s fashion.

COVID-19 has hit the $2.5 trillion fashion industry hard – forcing the closure of stores across the globe and hitting revenue by around 30% year-on-year in 2020.

The pandemic also triggered a rapid and urgent acceleration of e-commerce, omnichannel selling, and digitization, with omnichannel shoppers spending at least 34% more than their offline counterparts, according to The State of Fashion 2020 by McKinsey.

Meanwhile, the B2B fashion sector – including wholesalers, resellers, and e-shops – has also gained a renewed criticality: the opportunity to sell hundreds of thousands of items in bulk and keep inventory (AKA cash) moving has never been more vital.

In total, 82% of businesses fail because of poor management of cash flow. So, for all the consumer-facing tech in the world, getting paid on time by using the correct business processes and human interactions remains the best way to ensure cash flow and financial stability in the long term.

The fashion brands that will excel tend to see COVID-19 as a catalyst to manage risk – ramping up resilience planning and reviewing and adapting payment strategies ahead of new restrictions and consumer shifts.

But many executives tell us they are exhausted after an unforgiving year. They recognize that now is the time to focus on their core business – adding value and supporting competitive advantage.

Our team of 3,000 professionals speaks 25 languages and serves 50 of the world’s leading fashion brands operating in 35 countries. This includes providing outsourced credit management services for the wholesale channel from our regional hubs.

By removing these immediate pressures quickly, brands can achieve a rapid return on investment. This combination of human expertise and technology is key to success.

In our experience there are three keyways for fashion firms to balance their positioning, profitability, and cash flow managing their wholesale channel:

1) Build secure relationships using data – At a time of unprecedented risk of collapses within wholesale and retail, mid-tier firms must use data to drive robust decision-making on risk management, pricing, and payment strategy.

Many brands currently use a mix of credit insurance, external financial scoring, and access to their data to underpin strategies. But many of these methods are no longer sufficient or fit for purpose, at a time when guarantee coverage is low and trading conditions can change almost by the hour.

We manage relationships with 35,000 points of sale worldwide to collect live data from across the fashion industry, analyze the numbers, and report back anonymized data to clients every day to inform their decision-making. We collate these insights about potential risks into our screening processes, analyze client’s retail portfolios, make real-time recommendations (payment methods, payment terms, etc.) to enable everyone to make quick and robust decisions to develop safe business practice.

This enables brands to gain much better visibility and insight to protect themselves proactively from potential payment issues which may arise in the future.

There is no way to completely remove risk from any business, but prevention is better than cure, and the more insight you have about buyers, the better you can protect and adapt your business.

2) Support Global Growth – The wholesale fashion industry has shifted from 5% online to 30% online. As such, brands are managing an increasing number of sales channels, including multi-brand and department stores, resellers, and e-shops.

This rapid change is compounded by an increase in the level of complexity faced by fashion businesses when developing their buyer network across multiple regions and channels – all with different laws, rules, systems, languages, processes, and payment terms. Without care and engaging with numerous industry stakeholders, it’s easy to be caught out – for example, making mistakes on declarations, invoices, or process implementations, which your client would recharge to you.

To get this right, you either need to create your multinational multi-skilled team or tap into an existing network of professionals who understand and advise on navigating regional customs, payment methods, specific channel processes, and interdependencies within a fragmented and complex landscape of countries and clients’ specificities. Experts can also help you to implement new systems and procedures covering all new and existing trading areas.

3) Negotiate payment terms – It has perhaps never been so attractive for brands to optimize trade with wholesale buyers – selling hundreds of thousands of pieces in a single transaction.

But like D2C, the B2B fashion industry is also facing new risks.

First, there is a financial squeeze, as retailers who urgently need to add a mark-up and ensure profits urge wholesalers to seek discounts.

Then there’s an increased credit risk. Before the pandemic, the majority of fashion brands relied upon credit insurance to protect their stock and profits, knowing that insurers would indemnify them in case of clients’ payments default. But since COVID-19, insurers have dropped the level of coverage by around a third – putting much more orders at risk.

Without careful management, this combination of discounts, together with significant falls in consumer spending on apparel and reduced cover, could result in massive inventory build-ups.

Fortunately, it has been recognized that ‘one issue affects all’ – in an industry as interconnected as fashion, and stakeholders have worked collaboratively to implement a pragmatic response.

Many key resellers and wholesalers have increased payment terms from 30-60 days, which mid-tier fashion brands have widely accepted. Meanwhile, the bounce rate on payments has remained relatively steady at around 1%, despite all the challenges.

It is vital that fashion brands recognize this measured approach in any discussions with B2B buyers and negotiate terms in a way that offers a win-win on financial security for buyer and supplier.

We worked on behalf of a global US luxury fashion brand to manage relationships with 1,500 of its wholesale clients, and implement new payment systems.

As a result, the brand increased sales by over 5,000% over 12 years.

It has also ensured that the brand stays ahead of the curve with its omnichannel strategy and digital transformation.

We recommend engaging a team of professionals focused on providing end-to-end credit management services, from order to cash, to support your domestic and international markets. This includes matching your sales and finance strategies, automating financial processes whenever possible, transforming fixed costs into variable costs, negotiating payment terms, brokering the best credit insurance, and collecting receivables as quickly as possible to ensure cash flow.

This combination of people, processes, and tools will enable you to remove a significant amount of hassle, set the right levels of risk to boost a sustainable business, and secure your sales using best practices in credit management.

Looking ahead

The fashion industry went through a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges in 2020. But the hard truth is that 2021 is set to be just as tricky, with a likely global recession and the continued fallout from COVID-19.

Brands that balance their positioning, profitability, and cash flow will be best placed to realize the potential of brighter days ahead.

Axel Mouquet

President & Chief Executive Officer

Webhelp Payment Services

Global Fashion Sector Lead

Talk to us today

SHARE

Read the 6th edition of our OneShot magazine on Social Engagement

Our 6th edition of the OneShot is here!

Download your OneShot Magazine

Tick tock tick tock…

Time is ticking away – now is the time to start focusing on social engagement.

Social commitment means becoming aware, but above all, taking action and standing up for inequalities.

Taking action can be as simple as these recipes to be: more human, more green, and more equal. Not only are these good for you, but for others too.

Compelling your company to pledge and commit in the fight for social and environmental changes, such as the global warming crisis or social justices and equalities – are vital steps to take now for a brighter future.

And it all starts with knowledge. So, here’s to your learning with the latest edition of the OneShot.

Dare to be ‘woke’ and be a driving force for change?

SHARE

Travel rebound, evolution or revolution in traveller experience?

2020 has changed travel forever.

With the entire sector facing challenges like never before, we talk to industry leaders from easyJet, Expedia, Evaneos, and IATA, to share their experiences during these times of accelerated digital and operational transformation. With further insights into what this means for the future of travel in 2021 and beyond.

 


Telecats named as an Exceptional AI Solutions Provider by Frost & Sullivan

Virtual reality concept: abstract visualization of artificial intelligence

This report puts a great spotlight on Telecats and is a strong recognition of the company’s long-term commitment to invest in AI and delivering speech enabled solutions for accelerated customer experiences. Part of Webhelp Group since 2017, Telecats is headquartered in the Netherlands near top university Twente and partners with over 100 European leading brands such as DPG Media, easyJet, MSD France and MSD Vaccins, KPN and Webhelp itself, automating voice-based interactions. By implementing Smart IVR, Voicebots and Speech Routing, and other actionable use cases leveraging language modeling, Telecats redesigns the way contact centers operate.

Federico Teveles, Research Analyst – Information and Communications Technologies at Frost & Sullivan stated;

“Telecats’ remarkable technological capabilities are pivotal to its success in meeting market expectations. They have a successful track record of delivering advanced, custom conversational AI solutions to leading global enterprises, and exhibit exceptional customer satisfaction rates. Telecats incorporates a myriad of high-quality, forward-looking features that allow customers to optimize the customer journey and enhance agent experience (AX) and customer experience (CX). The acquisition by Webhelp has helped to position itself as a market leader.”

In this report, Frost and Sullivan has reviewed a wide range of companies in the entire European market and has paid a specific attention to the trends, opportunities, and challenges in the fast-growing industry of Voicebots and A.I. This study highlights Telecats in particular for the strong assets they bring to the table; a combination of highly developed technology skills, long-term business experience and its association with Webhelp, Europe’s leading CX and business solutions provider, bringing Telecats a unique positioning in Europe. With a focus on 2 client implementations, the report is a great demonstration of Telecats’ strong track record of delivering great AI-powered solutions to leading global companies.

Martijn Franssen, Director Digital Transformation KPN stated:

“The innovative speech solutions of Telecats fitted perfectly in the architecture required to bring KPN’s digital strategy to life within Customer Service. And importantly, we definitely see a Cultural fit. Telecats simply provides a flexible, modernized approach. The results we achieved with the voice and AI technology are proof of our unique cooperation. With a clear voice for Customer Service the customer literally becomes the center and basis of innovation in the field of customer contact.”

Telecats’ nomination as exceptional A.I. Solutions provider follows the recognition of Webhelp’s leadership, particularly in innovation, by the group’s top position in Frost & Sullivan’s RadarTM: European CX Outsourcing 2020 announced just a few days ago.


Black Friday, the retail rush in the COVID era

Black Friday is an American consumer institution, where hordes of shoppers traditionally lined the streets waiting for the stores to open the day after Thanksgiving to pick up what they hope will be the bargain of a lifetime. In recent years Black Friday, closely followed by Cyber Monday, has heralded the global festive shopping rush. Here Brandon Aitken, CCO of Webhelp South Africa and India takes a look at how this year may be different, and the ways which our teams and the retail and logistics industries as a whole are preparing to meet an unprecedented online demand.

In the mainstream media, Black Friday is typically represented by crowded scenes of over-excited and frustrated shoppers, fighting it out for that last item on the shelf and stealing items from each other’s trolleys. But in reality, a huge amount retail activity takes place online, and this figure has been steadily growing.

According to Adobe, in 2019 US Black Friday online sales beat all previous records, at an astonishing $7.4bn, up from $6.2bn in 2018. CNBC reported that Cyber Monday was an even bigger day for online shopping than Black Friday, with sales totalling $9.2bn, up 16.9% on 2018.[1]

And, Barclaycard data reveals that the story was the same in the UK too, with Black Friday sales climbing by 16.5% last year, while Cyber Monday transactions rose by 6.9%. Their CEO Rob Cameron said:

“Our data shows that consumers have not only been buying more, but also spending more than last year – which will no doubt come as welcome news to the retail sector”[2]

It doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine that in 2020, Black Friday will drive even more customers onto their phones, tablets and laptops, as companies attempt to avoid crowded in-store events, to safeguard their customers in the COVID era, without losing retail sales.

With the global high-street restrictions still impacting on brick and mortar profits, a successful Black Friday via online channels is something all retailers will be hoping for.

At Webhelp, we are well prepared for this event. We have a highly successful track record of managing Peak Demand in customer service for the international retail and logistics brands we support. Behind the scenes, this success hinges on an incredible amount of preparation and hard work from our people and of course close collaboration with our clients. If you’d like to know more you can read just a few of our employee stories

We have four customer service centres in SA, offering a blended delivery solution with advisors both working from home and safely on site.  Every year, leading up to the peak period and during the ‘eye of the storm’ we create an exciting atmosphere to support and motivate our people during the toughest time of their working year. We focus on motivation and ensure we reward people for their hard work.

Along with the energy and commitment of our people; technology and adaptability will obviously play a huge part in any response to increased service demands, and have a robust and reliable solution that has performed well both at peak and under crisis during COVID.

Webhelp has over 1,000 people working from home supporting 8 different international retail and logistics clients to ensure we are able to sustain support for their customers, and this can be adjusted in response to the evolving landscape of the pandemic.

The skills and expertise that our teams have shown in quickly reacting to changing customer demands really does set us apart and is reflected in the incredible feedback that we have received from our client partners. Commenting on our joint response to the pandemic Michaela Simpson, Customer Experience Director at Yodel reported that:

 “Suddenly home shopping habits changed completely, as a result we have been effectively running at peak operation, which we usually spend a significant part of the year planning and laying out logistics for. However, we managed to switch this on in just a few hours and since then we have maintained very, very high numbers, well above our plan”.

It’s clear that this year, more than usual, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will create added pressures for the retail and logistics sectors, but in South Africa we have the talent and a stable infrastructure to help create success for our clients by providing their customers with an exceptional on-line shopping experience.

[1] Cyber Monday sales hit record $9.4 billion, Adobe says CNBC.com

[2] Black Friday 2019: What happened, where and why? Barclaycard.com


Automotive distance selling framework: building a successful sales strategy

Webhelp sector experts Carole Rousseau, Business Unit Director Travel, Leisure, Automotive & Mobility, and Stéphane Chavatte, Account Director, share their insights into the current traction automotive distance selling is gaining in France.

What is the current performance of outsourced automotive online sales?

Webhelp’s observation is in a distance selling framework, the average monthly turnover exceeds €400k per advisor. Admittedly, this figure benefited slightly from a “Covid effect” but we are making this observation with a decline of several years.

We now have 7 years of experience in automotive distance selling, in which we have reached a certain maturity. We have developed operational intelligence and best practices to achieve a successful sales model that is part of a triple win logic: our client, ourselves, but above all, the sales advisors.

These sales advisors who manage to sell 1.5 vehicles every day, on average – which is beyond the sales figure of a salesperson in an agency.

Provided that a satisfactory customer experience is put in place, and in particular a perfect fluidity between the online sales site and the call center agents, these performances lead us to believe that automotive VAD has found a promising outsourcing model, which we must now take advantage of.

What sales services can be outsourced in this way?

Webhelp supports a multitude of players in the automotive and mobility sector: large manufacturers, players in new markets, or operators of new mobility via our two major automotive hubs based in Vitré in France and Braga in Portugal.

Our services cover the sale of new, 0km vehicles, and used vehicles online; considering the range of existing financing services using inbound calls, leads (hot and nursing), and portfolio management.

The placement of financing products is becoming increasingly important in the sale of vehicles. Our teams have successfully built confidence in sales with considerable finance turnover rates.

What are the new challenges of automotive VAD?

To summarize, I would cite 3 trends that support the development of automotive distance selling:

  1. The arrival of intermediaries to historic manufacturers agents: who offer used, new and 0 kilometer vehicles. These agents need to equip themselves with a network that allows them to cover the whole country for logistics purposes, while the historic players need to rationalize their distribution network, often colossal, to remain competitive.
  2. The explosion of shared mobility and alternative modes: leasing, rental, valet services, alternative means of transport (Blablacar, Uber, Lime, etc.). The automobile is in the process of leaving the ‘owner’ model, especially for the younger generations.
  3. The shift towards online automotive sales: for example, a large national manufacturer which has recently entrusted us with developing the performance of its online sales site. In consultation with our teams, improvements and technological bricks will be added to increase traffic on their site, optimize the customer journey and increase the conversion rate.


Rising to travellers’ expectations for the future of travel

What was once a favourite pastime is now looking very different due to this year’s events of COVID-19. Traveller behaviour has rapidly changed, with many opting to not take a trip at all this year. It has changed our ways of thinking towards travel, leading to historic transformation in organisations and society.

In 2019, the number of passengers boarded by the global airline industry reached over 4.5 billion people. At the beginning of 2020, this all changed. Travel unsurprisingly came to a halt due to coronavirus. The total number of flights began to decline by over 60%, according to Flightradar24 racking statistics. This was due to the nature of the virus, forcing governments to ground planes and stop all unnecessary travel.

Government guidelines progressively relaxed in June, allowing travel and leisure activities to resume and get back to some form of ‘normality’ to revive the economy. However, according to IATA, there wasn’t a significant improvement in passenger demand due to the lockdown and quarantine in some markets  with August’s traffic performance the industry’s worst-ever summer season: August international passenger demand plummeted 88.3% compared to August 2019.”

Rising to traveller’s expectations

Getting on a plane and travelling the world is not top of everyone’s bucket list at this moment in time. People are not travelling like they did before the pandemic. The uncertainty of ‘wave two’ is causing many people to become frustrated and emotionally unsettled for the future. And with markets imposing quarantine rules, it has impacted travellers wanting to go abroad altogether.

Travel is recognised as a sense of escapism – now fraught with concerns that were not always top of mind before: cleaning procedures, hygiene, or what places to visit.
Webhelp’s Travel & Mobility Sector Lead, Nora Boros states from our previous article “No matter what kind of trip is being taken, travel clients go through a myriad of emotions before, during, and after their journey – which will undoubtedly affect their consumer behaviour.”
The first wave of COVID-19 amplified these emotions; undoubtedly affecting consumers behaviours and expectations towards travelling and the industry overall.
Nonetheless, it enables organisations to augment and find alternative ways of transforming their servicing and offer travellers new ways of attaining the pleasure of wanderlust.

Health and safety are at the forefront of travelling now more than ever. Passengers are more inquisitive about hygiene policies and what exactly the process looks like before, during, and after flying – the same goes for domestic travel.

It’s not surprising many people have opted to not travel, go on a staycation, or save their plans for a trip in 2021. A Euronews poll surveyed four European countries – Germany, France, Italy, and Spain to identify travel plans which showed a comparison pre-COVID and now. Respondents from all countries had over a 60% decrease in travelling abroad, an average 50% increase in no travelling while domestic travelling stayed consistent between 24%-40%. A Statista survey showed “one third of respondents in the United Kingdom planned to spend their annual leave on holidays in the UK if travel abroad was still difficult due to lockdown restrictions. Over a quarter of respondents expected to spend more time at home.”

Travel influencing new ways of working

Although spending more time at home allows people to have time with their families and make more time for themselves, many people have had to shift to work from home trying to find and maintain a work-life-balance.

These changes have affected people’s behaviours concerning their place of work, inspiring people to seek alternative travel possibilities such as work from home, but anywhere.

“As we continue to adapt to the new ways of working, our work lives become more flexible”, Nora Boros states in our future of travel blog, “leisure travel will become blended with business needs, giving more consideration than ever to the concept of ‘Bleisure’.”

Introducing hybrid models of flexible working allows colleagues to work from home, the office or anywhere in the world. This could open-up longer trips for travellers who want to stay somewhere with office space, or result in an increase of international mobility for organisations to implement.

Webhelp has used the flexible working approach, Webhelp Anywhere with several clients to ensure the safety of colleagues while positively achieving business continuity. We have supported clients with their digital transformation strategy by identifying quick-wins and sustainable long-term objectives to phase through the crisis and transition into the new normal.

As we continue to phase through these uncertain times, it is an opportunity to invest in digital and operational transformation capabilities and become a differentiator in the market, as this will play a key role in helping travellers feel safe in their future travels.


Interested to learn more about these changes and travellers’ expectations for the future?

Watch our travel rebound webinar where we discuss how businesses can rethink their customer experience strategy and operational/digital transformation for 2021 and beyond.

Travel Webinar Video

Webhelp named CXM Leader by Everest Group for the second time in 2020

Following our positioning as a Global Leader in Customer Experience Management (CXM) by the leading analyst, Everest Group, we have now been recognized as a Leader again in its CXM in EMEA Services PEAK Matrix® Assessment 2020, rating high in terms of vision and capability.

This report is an objective recognition of Webhelp’s successful growth strategy, and our unique people-first, end-to-end approach with Skand Bhargava, Vice President, Everest Group saying:

“Webhelp is a leading CXM provider globally, especially in Europe, supported by a large multilingual workforce of more than 60,000 agents. With a focus on digital transformation, CX consulting, and customer journey orchestration, Webhelp has been able to drive exponential growth over the last few years,”

He continues “Further, its deep digital and domain expertise, outcome-focused approach, and strong leadership have allowed it to resiliently navigate the uncertainties created by COVID-19 and continue on its growth journey.”

This result builds on our strong track record in analyst rankings and assessments, and our second year as a Leader in the PEAK Matrix, with Everest Group specifically highlighting our strong coverage in major industry verticals, our geographical delivery footprint, and the value delivered to our clients.

Everest Group defines Leaders as companies that deliver consistent Customer Experience Management (CXM) Services through expansion in new regions, serving various buyer sizes, and delivering high satisfaction scores due to greater technological and advanced digital capabilities.

For this EMEA edition, Everest Group selected 21 organizations to evaluate and compare for their 2020 report based upon the service provider’s market success, vision and strategy, service focus and capabilities, digital and technological solutions, domain investments, and buyer feedback.


OneShot - Dark social

You are certainly missing something; two thirds of content shares take place in private channels. Are people talking about your brand or your product? Is your communication having an impact? If, in order to find out, you analyse your social media traffic with Google Analytics, it will probably only show you a fraction of the stats. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not a (complete) disaster.

What is it?

Dark social is a sharing space that eludes tracking-standards tools. This content – often copy-pasted links – is shared via SMS, email, private or encrypted messages, etc. That is to say, outside the traditional channels (Twitter, Facebook, a brand’s webpage, etc.). This method of sharing is overwhelmingly dominant. For each piece of content (published on a website) shared on social media, there are seven shared in the background via private messages.

Why does it happen?

For socionauts, sharing is clearly part of the private sphere; almost 70% of all content sharing takes place in private and the rest on public sharing channels. Because we don’t give our best discoveries to just anyone, hence the high informational value of ultra-specific sharing, which also involves seniors more than millennials and Gen Zs. The channels vary, but the rule of thumb, on the other hand, remains firm; only value-added content is shared.

Where do you start?

One way to get the ball rolling is to provide short links that are easy to share, attractive and SEO friendly with tools such as Rebrandly (although its scope is limited). Or to use the share buttons on ShareThis. Or specific analytical tools such as GetSocial. How do we see into private emails or encrypted messages such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger? We don’t. Above all, keep publishing value-added content and make it easy to share – never mind if you can’t get an accurate measure of the impact later on.

How can you make a performance lever?

Finance, travel, restaurants… In certain sectors, dark social is the sharing channel of choice. Try to gauge its importance in the sharing habits of your target audience. On this basis, you will possibly rethink your current KPIs, and redefine them. Because dark social is not only the dominant channel on a quantitative level, it also brings you clients and prospective clients who are following the recommendations of a trusted person! And it brings them into the light.

To appease the public, Google has created a dedicated site : “Bien vivre le digital”. (Living happily with digital).

It is highly educational, and it covers and clarifies sensitive subjects.

 

Read the full OneShot article here


OneShot – Win back trust in the era of fake news

We take a look at how the social media landscape is overshadowed by scandals with François-Bernard Huyghe, a specialist in geopolitics, director of research at Iris, expert in influence and disinformation.

Fake news, fake followers, fake influencers, deep fake, etc. Political currents, companies and simple individuals fight to spread their representation of reality and the courses of action. The craziest points of view – conspiracy theories, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, and other trolls – bringing together highly active small communities, whose impact is often destructive. In regard to digital technologies, it brings with it an arsenal of highly sophisticated disinformation that is constantly improving and increasingly easy to access. Is there a place for trust among all this?

Fake news, fake followers, fake influencers, deep fake… How did we end up here?
François-Bernard Huyghe: These Anglicisms are recent and numerous: I listed 60 in my essay on fake news (1). They can be found in journalism, politics, geopolitics and even in everyday conversation; so, they are now part of our reality.  Of course, lies and deception go back a long way, but it was in 2016 that the general concern became widespread, with the election of Trump, Brexit, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Catalonia elections, in Italy, etc. So, we have granted great political power to the spreading of fake news -and other ‘alternative facts’- on social media. To the point that it is a threat to democracies, the media, and ultimately, to trust as a common socio-economic foundation. Thus, we have moved into the era of post-truth. And the context of Covid-19 confirms this point of view; WHO even talks of an ‘infodemic’, with harmful consequences.

Where is trust in social networks and media?
F.-B. H.: Trust in social media has flipped; we’ve gone from a concept, or from a meme, “social networks will establish democracy everywhere”, to “social networks are bringing down democracies”. We started with the idea that social networks provided a freedom of speech that would trouble the powers that be – those of governments and brands, in particular. And this would in turn lead to more lucid citizen-consumers, saner politicians and better-quality products and services. Ultimately it is the opposite that has become widespread. In the case of brands, other negative factors also arose, such as Dieselgate, the leak of personal data, its commercial exploitation, the opaque role of artificial intelligence, fake customer reviews, click farms, etc.

What are the consequences of these disinformation practices for the public?
F.-B. H.: Gafam and social media regularly report on the thousands of harmful messages or fake news that they delete. There is also corrective intervention from fact-checking experts or bodies, such as AFP Fact Check, partly financed by Facebook, whose new role is “to refute anything that did not happen”. However, despite this refutation, those who manipulate opinions are well aware that there is still some doubt. As Hannah Arendt already said, “When everyone lies to you constantly, the result is not that you believe these lies but no one believes anything anymore… And with such a people, you can do whatever you want.” Ultimately, the most serious aspect is not any particular fake news article; it is the torrent of them that has had a toxic impact on our minds. Citizen-consumers find themselves overwhelmed with doubt, with an inability to learn and act, which leads to frustration or even anger. Take a look at the USA, where Trump has attacked Twitter, while the social network was doing its job of moderating; it is like the start of a soap opera about freedom to express anything and everything, in other words, to misinform with impunity.

What kind of influence is legitimate in the eyes of the public?
F.-B. H. : We have gone from a time when mass media would publish a message in line with that of esteemed opinion leaders, and we have now arrived – through this crisis of general trust – at a strong legitimacy of nano and micro-influencers. Therefore, over prestige and authority, we now prefer proximity; people who talk to me should be people like me. They and I, we should find ourselves on a level playing field. Hence, also, a form of insularity. The citizen-consumer is eventually stuck between individualism and tribalism. Because a tribe is still necessary in order to feel valued within their choices and their identity. Consequently, speeches that often end up getting through are not those of the experts or the established authorities; instead they are the simple opinions or the raw emotions of ‘real’ people.

How can we rebuild trust?
F.-B. H.: On the part of the companies and brands, it seems wiser to establish horizontal and genuine links with consumers, rather than try to create messages that descend towards ‘the old style’. This probably happens through the human dimension, proximity, localness, transparency, proof, the personalisation of relationships, and by approaches that are more micro than macro. But, in a context of economic revival, they will have to ask questions about a shift in production, of real needs versus luxuries and ostentatiousness, of meaning and values, of the company’s social and ecological role, etc. Is it time for certain brands to make an ethical change and to become companies with a mission? It is worth thinking about.

(1) The term fake news, ‘infox’ or ‘fausses nouvelles’ in French, refers to untruthful information that is spread in order to manipulate or mislead the public.

“Over prestige and authority, we now prefer proximity.”

François-Bernard Huyghe

 

Read the full OneShot article here