Brands and Trust
20 Jan 2022
Shane LoorhamCreative Director
Part 1: The state of trust
According to annual trust and credibility survey, the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust is falling rapidly across all global industries. Not least in Australia, where we are just four percentage points above the world’s least trusting country, Russia.
We’re constantly being reminded of the massive internet monopolies moving fast and breaking things. Simultaneously (and as a direct response), the media landscape is shifting and we’ve seen a spate of high profile media mergers.
Fake news and clickbait headlines proliferate social media. It seems that truth in our ‘Trumpian’ age is hard to find.
As the idea of ‘truth’ itself is diluted more and more, there is a marked rise and belief in subjectivity over objectivity (because who or what is truly objective?). Baby boomer, Gen-Xer or Millennial, the net effect seems to be a hefty dose of scepticism and a lack of trust.
In fact, a 2018 survey of 10,000 Millennials across 36 countries revealed a dramatic downward trend in the perception of global business, including a 17% drop in their faith in businesses to behave ethically.
So, trust in the media and politics have fallen sharply, but so has our trust in institutions. Consider the recent fall from grace of two of Australia’s most historically trusted cultural pillars: the church (think the royal commission) and sport (think WADA, the IOC, FIFA and 1000 other recent controversies). Trust in business looks no better either, and no brand is immune. According to the aforementioned Edelman Report, trust in business fell from 48 to 45 per cent and NGOs from 52 to 48 per cent this year. Even with the push of many large businesses towards a more purposeful and values-based approach, there is a perceived lack of follow-through.
The Silver Lining
Luckily for brands in Australia, this massive belief void represents opportunity. Businesses and organisations who can step up and demonstrate genuine and believable values-led behaviour in a consistent manner have much to gain.
As an example (again from the Edelman report), business leaders who have taken a vocal leading role in global movements by proactively standing up for causes have been successfully clawing back some points in the trust game:
“High-profile examples included CEOs standing up against modern slavery, and for gender equality and equal pay. Further, more than 600 corporations backed the “yes” side in the Australian marriage equality vote, including Qantas, the Australian Stock Exchange, and ANZ. But these leaders are still a minority. With average credibility in CEOs still sitting at 39 percent, and more than six-in-10 believing CEOs should take the lead on change ahead of government, more need to stop hiding and stand up for societal causes.”
It’s important to know what you stand for, and communicate this position with resounding clarity.
Part 2: Trust. Why do you need it?
A quick example of failing consumer trust: My wife and I recently bought a new car (well, a second-hand car) and I was very tempted by a particular brand of American 4x4s. I was seduced by their utilitarian styling, read as boxiness, which spoke to my aesthetic, plus their premium features which I was surprised to find were within my price range. The brand had me in their sights, the product and marketing were both highly effective in persuading me that they’re the right fit for me. I’m not a ‘car guy’ but nor am I naive, so I’m not going to buy a car without doing some basic research. So. The reviews? Well, once I scratched the surface, I found story after story of unreliability. In the end, I simply didn’t trust them.
Perhaps your product or service is cheaper than a 4x4, and perhaps your demographic is more easy going than ‘sceptical creative’. But according to research, today’s 20-somethings are far more pragmatic than I was. In-fact, most Millennials don’t trust anyone!
For most brands, trust is becoming a ‘demonstrative hygiene point’ (basic necessity to compete), not a ‘differentiator’ (something that sets you apart from your competition). If you aren’t trusted, you’re likely to be looked over quickly when a consumer is faced with a choice. People need to feel confident in your product or service and they’ll expect it to deliver again and again. They need to feel that their expectations are going to be met, and they shouldn’t ever feel let down. Ever. Not for a second. If they ever are let down, the response needs to be swift and it needs to be extremely positive.
How to embed trust in your organisation
Have you ever noticed that, as soon as someone says “trust me”, alarm bells ring in your mind? It’s a natural response. It immediately raises doubts because what truly trustworthy person need to ask for trust? That’s why, when it comes to brand trust, it needs to be demonstrative. In other words, show don’t tell.
So, how do you demonstrate trust? First, a business must understand its greater brand purpose. Once you have a purpose (one that’s bigger than simply making a profit), you can use that purpose to create a set of deep-rooted values for your business. When you can truly say that you’re living those values from top to bottom, day in and day out—congratulations! You’re well on your way to demonstrating trust.
We’ve all read a lot about purpose, the Simon Sinek disciples are plentiful. The important take-away here is that a purposeful brand walks the talk. You need to embed your purpose and your values in staff, in supply chain, in every step of the product or service delivery. Brand values are important. They can’t just be a tokenistic list of traits—no-one’s buying that. Values need to be adopted by everyone and they need to be delivered by your whole organisation with consistency in order to feel authentic. Your values are fundamental to everything you do. If you let them slide, it will become apparent, and that’s when trust begins to erode. Consumer trust disappears much faster than it can be repaired.
Part 3: Win in the race for trust
In business (as in life), you can’t give a guarantee without backing it up. You have to earn trust. We all absorbed the deluge of emails about General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Every organisation you’d unwittingly given your data to is suddenly saying “hey, trust us with your data” and it comes across as both insincere and tokenistic. Brands need to be giving us reasons to trust them.
Go beyond leadership and marketing and embed it in your business. Live it. People want sincerity and they want authenticity. So business leaders who are in touch with the minutiae of their consumer’s needs as well as the delivery of their products and services are far more likely to succeed. You need to know your customer and deliver on their expectations. But you also need to preempt their needs so that you can innovate and meet future expectations, because they need to be able to rely on you. Reliability and trust are intrinsically entwined.
Let’s not forget your staff. In many ways, they are consumers too. It’s critical that they’re buying what you’re selling (metaphorically speaking) because they are the face and the voice of your business. A lack of trust in the workplace is not just unpleasant, it’s a seed of bad faith that produces poor experiences for everyone.
The design of the business, the service and the product delivery all need an impeccable level of consideration. Any touchpoint can be the chink in your armour. Personal interactions are hugely important. Your sales force or anyone customer-facing needs to be adequately educated in and demonstrative of your brand purpose, values, personality. They need to understand the products and the audience they are talking to. After all, they are the face of the brand.
Spread the word
Beyond the business functions, you do still need to spread the word. Advertising is not dead at all according to Ian Leslie’s wonderful piece in New Statesman. He posits:
The very act of advertising in public tends to make a brand more trusted, since people can see it has a social reputation to maintain. When ads are invisible to people outside their target audience, it is easier to send messages that would fare badly in the light of public scrutiny – for political actors, Facebook is a dog-whistler’s paradise. Researchers have consistently found that ads in broadcast media are taken more seriously than online ads: one reason for this is that people can see that other people can see them too. Even Mark Zuckerberg understands this at some level. Seeking to restore trust in Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he ran full-page ads in newspapers.
Incredibly, just this week, Australian print media outlets united to advertise themselves as the most trusted news sources with a bold thetruthbuildstrust.com.au campaign, devoting an entire website to the topic of truth in media and taking out a full-page ad to advertise it.
Another example is Nike’s recent 30 year campaign featuring controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick, known for raising awareness about police brutality and racial injustice. Yes, Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick has had backlash, but they expected this and they know their market. They are aligning themselves (and selling to) a primarily young urban audience who are on board with these values, so standing strong on issues like this will serve them well. Be like Nike - don’t just talk purpose, demonstrate it through leadership.
There are so many nuanced ways to tackle the issue of trust and rise above the pack as a believable, reliable and trustworthy organisation. Engaging with a program of purposeful business, culture and brand change is the way to make it happen.