Return of the hidden persuaders

Nick Baker

Companies need to rethink how they communicate with customers. It is time to take a bold view of their role in our shared culture, rather than rely on semi-scientific methods to justify marketing strategies

Trust has become a big issue in business, with survey after survey showing that the public's faith in commercial organisations has declined, ever more so in the wake of the credit crunch with its banking scandals.

In this critical period for the public acceptance of corporate behaviour, management should think long and hard about the most appropriate compromise between their interests and those of the public, not only as an ethical consideration, but to ward off a backlash against companies' use of ever more sophisticated techniques to influence consumers and other stakeholders.

Marketing sits on the frontline where corporations are highly visible to the public, and inappropriate attempts to manipulate consumer choice or public opinion could exacerbate feelings of distrust. A growing body of academic literature, much of it associated with behavioural economics, has begun to undermine the assumptions about the rational and well-informed consumer that underlay previously dominant models of economics and of marketing.