To explain brand trust, we’ll use two characters from the 1981 film Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. A museum wants to acquire a precious and culturally valuable artifact for display and safekeeping. The curator can choose one of two people: the swashbuckling treasure hunter Indiana Jones or his rival, René Belloq.
Belloq is a renowned French archaeologist who delivers, but has questionable methods (stealing the finds of other archaeologists) and even more questionable associates (actual Nazis). Jones, on the other hand, is an underdog who succeeds despite the odds. He has a clear moral compass (he fights Nazis and wants to preserve history) and endearing allies like Marion and Sallah. Which archaeologist would you choose?
Jones’ qualities and actions make him the Good Guy. He’s the character the audience roots for. Brand trust works on a similar principle. But what does the trustworthiness of a brand mean in today’s world? How can you make your company the good guy in your customers’ eyes?
What Does Brand Trust Mean?
Essentially, brand trust is a metric of how much customers expect a company to do the right thing. Do they see a company as an Indiana Jones or a René Belloq? How should they expect to be treated?
You expect your hotel to wash its sheets. When you buy food at the grocery store, you expect it to be mold-free and as fresh as possible. You expect products you order online to come as advertised. If any of these expectations aren’t met, you expect friendly, prompt customer service to make things right. Word gets out when companies don’t meet these standards.
But in today’s world, even more is expected of brands. Crises like climate change, economic recessions, and the COVID-19 pandemic mean that many customers are worried about more than just the service they receive from a business. They’re concerned with how that business interacts with the bigger picture.
It’s a Big Deal
Brands have more power in consumers’ lives than ever before, but they’re held to higher standards than ever, too.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, produced by the world’s largest PR firm, revealed the extent of the influence brand trust holds. To 81 percent of consumers, “I must be able to trust the brand to do what is right” was a major factor or even a deal breaker in their purchasing decisions. Over 70 percent take things like supply chains, reputation, values, and environmental impact into consideration when making a purchase.
But these numbers are changing. The 2020 Special Report, released amid the COVID-19 pandemic, found that 60 percent of consumers globally are turning to the brands they are “absolutely sure” they can trust during the crisis. To understand how crises affect brand trust, just look at BP: the chart in this Financial Times article illustrates how far its shares fell after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. A decade later, the oil giant is still rebuilding it’s image after the massive environmental disaster.
The difference between Deepwater Horizon and COVID-19 is that the latter affects everyone, not just a single region or corporation. The public as a whole is taking a harder look at brands’ responses to the pandemic. One brand’s loss of trust could be another’s gain: 37 percent of 2020 respondents claimed they “have recently started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they have responded to the virus outbreak.”
Building Trust 101
Any brand can build or rebuild trust – even BP. It takes a lot of work, but you can turn your brand into the good guy, the one people love to buy from and can build a community around. We have some advice and resources to help you get started.
Be authentic in your communication.
That means seeing your customers as fellow humans and speaking to them as such, be it through your branding or your customer service. Build relationships with your customers that are deeper than a one-time purchase click. It’s hard to match a reputation for authenticity.
Tell your company’s story.
Knowing that there are people behind the brand helps build trust, especially when you relate the struggles of those people to potential customers. You can position your brand and products as an experienced and trusted guide to help customers solve problems or achieve their goals. The StoryBrand framework has a lot of helpful tools that can teach you how to use a narrative to improve your brand’s marketing.
Show customers that people like them trust you.
Peer reviews are a powerful tool, and there are two great ways to put them to use. Check out our guide to using testimonials, curated reviews that show potential customers that people like them love your brand. You can also incorporate influencer marketing into your strategy. People respect the opinions of influencers they follow. If those influencers tout your products, they’ll want to try them out for themselves. We have a guide to influencer marketing, too!
Get customer feedback and show them how you’re using it.
Find out what concerns your customers have and then use that information to improve. Are they finding common flaws in a product? Show them how you’re fixing it.
Establish ethical business practices.
Make customers feel good about doing business with you! Find out what issues they are concerned about or take stock of areas in which you could improve. Can you take action on production issues like plastic use and pollution, unethical material sourcing, or animal cruelty? But it doesn’t end at your company’s doorstep: Edelman’s 2019 report found that 53 percent of consumers think brands need to get involved in social issues not directly tied to their business dealings.
In regards to the pandemic, the 2020 report found that 90 percent of consumers want brands to do everything they can to protect the health and financial well-being of their employees and suppliers. About half of respondents said brands must do this to earn or keep their trust. And while the Coronavirus won’t be around forever, the mindset people have developed during the pandemic won’t go away quickly. In short, if customers see that you treat your employees right and take an ethical stance on social and environmental issues, they’re more likely to think you’ll treat them right, too.
Be transparent about privacy.
Brand growth and brand trust are closely linked. It’s no longer enough for businesses to say “just trust us.” They have to show consumers why they can be trusted. Even major brands can suffer significant losses when they’re shown to be untrustworthy. But when the René Belloq companies lose, the Indiana Jones companies win. Making your brand the good guy may be hard work, but putting effort into your brand’s authenticity and trustworthiness brings rewards to match.