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Building brand trust – How it’s done

Gaining people’s trust takes straight-forwardness. It is about connecting words and actions.

Building brand trust – How it’s done

Why is brand trust so important? Because customers stop thinking when they trust a brand. They buy it again and again, blindly so to speak, because they are sure: It will not disappoint them. This behavior is what makes brand trust so valuable: It is really pre-sold revenue. It leads to profitable growth – and reduces risks.

True loyalty, positive reviews, independent references and credible recommendations are the most effective factors for business success.

A hundred years ago, Ford offered cars in one color: black. Today we can choose from universal, metallic or flip-flop paint jobs in canyon beige, moonstone blue or misano red. The same goes for coffee: We used to get filter coffee, that was it. Today at Starbucks we have to decide on one of 87,000 variants. The selection is huge, and in fact pure chaos. Who can keep track?

Too many alternatives make us unsure: There is no possible way to rationally check all the offers of a particular market, which makes our choice a risky one. So there's only one thing left to do: We have to trust. But what happens instead? We are getting more and more distrustful. We are bewildered by banking and economic crises, outraged by the latest food scandal, and we are asking ourselves: Whom can we still trust these days?

This erosion of trust does not stop at brands – and that is a larger problem than many managers want to admit. Because brand trust is one of the key drivers of market share (Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung GfK): The greater the trust, the larger the percentage of regular customers, who constitute 60 to 70 % of revenue. So trust really is nothing short of pre-sold revenue.

So how do we build brand trust? And: How does brand trust develop in the first place? That's what this article is about.

Brand trust pays off economically

The minute people trust a brand, they stop thinking. They buy more, try more and talk more. And they are willing to pay more. This behavior reduces the transaction costs for the brand owner. The study "Brand Trust: The six drivers of trust" backs up the benefits with hard data:

  • Perception intensifies: 78% of survey respondents perceive the brands they trust more intensely. Trust therefore dramatically increases marketing efficiency.
  • The number of regular customers increases, acquisition costs drop: 82% buy products of the brands they trust over and over again. So trust reduces attrition rates, lowers retention costs and boosts profitability, because acquisition costs for long-term customer have long since paid for themselves.
  • Innovations are less risky: 78% are happy to try new products and services by brands they trust. This makes it easier to launch innovations and lower the associated risks.
  • Customers are happy to pay more: 50% of survey respondents are willing to pay more for these brands. With good reason, because trusted brands dramatically lower the risk of bad buys. Customers no longer have to carefully weigh price and quality against one another. Mistrust is exhausting, trust is a relief. Customers are happy to pay for it.
  • The brand is recommended: By far the most important benefit of brand trust: 83% are willing to recommend the brand – without compensation or any other incentive. Recommendation is not only the most effective way to gain new customers, but also by far the cheapest. The recommendation rate is the key indicator of whether or not a brand is working.

(This study dates back to 2009, but has not lost any of its significance.)

Brand trust is basically the conviction: This company keeps its promises. But this kind of trust does not happen over night. It usually requires a habituation effect that can take years. Brands are trust monuments.

What to do with newly acquired brands?

When acquiring brands, it is often difficult to recognize what trust potential they bear. When all brands of a company fit together in terms of their values, customers will continue to trust them after a takeover. If they don't fit, the opposite happens. Tip: When a brand is integrated that does not match the others, if should - initially - be positioned at some distance in the brand architecture, for example outside of the umbrella brand or family brand. This prevents the newly added brand from weakening the brand system.

Hence, for acquisitions you should examine not only synergies in the market or in development and production processes, but research also the synergies that support the building of strong brand trust. This is at least as valuable.

Patience and peak performances: How brand trust develops

Here's what you do: You have to focus on the positive preconceptions that consumers have developed based on the peak performances you have been delivering for decades. Those performances you then have to condense. You do that by concentrating your brand management on five trust drivers: competence, integrity, loyalty, consistency and openness. These were defined in the study on Customer Trust Management by Prof. Peter Kenning of Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Conversely, that means: A brand cannot please every single person. Trying to be liked by everyone is love's labor lost. It would lead to the brand pursuing consumers instead of attracting them – one of the cardinal sins of brand work.

Prof. Kenning also identifies four types of trust:

  1. Generalized trust: a sense of basic trust, a feeling of "being-able-to-depend"
  2. Affective trust: an inner willingness to trust certain people or relationships
  3. Reputation trust: no personal experience, but trust due to third-party information
  4. Experience trust: direct personal experience

The first two types of trust are predisposed and are very difficult to influence, if at all. For brand management, reputation and experience trust (3 and 4) are more interesting. These two types shape brand trust and can be managed consistently.

If you use the following five trust drivers for your brand management and ensure that the entire organization acts accordingly at all touchpoints, you will lay the foundation for brand trust:

Brand competence: Without outstanding performances that leave the average and the commonplace of the market behind them, no brand can emerge. Peak performances, expressed in highly condensed form at all brand touchpoints, are the underlying support structure of every brand strategy. Competence is the beginning of it all, it must be proven consistently.

Brand integrity: A brand must make sure that it remains predictable for all target groups – employees, suppliers, investors, customers and the public. Loosely based on Immanuel Kant: It must treat all others the way it would like to be treated. How does pricing remain trustworthy in multi-channel sales? Can customers co-develop products? Finding the answers to these questions is a difficult task in light of the complex webs of relationships most brands are part of. Gaining people's trust takes straight-forwardness. It is about connecting words and actions.

Brand loyalty: Relationship marketing and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are among the top trends in the marketing world. But: Are the brands really loyal to their customers? How do they take care of their regular customers? How do they handle complaints? Particularly in the B2B sector, long-term customers often put brands to the test. They have developed a keen sense of who is honest and who is just in it to make a buck.

Brand consistency: People can only begin to trust brands if they have a chance to get used to them. Anything that could disturb this habituation process, which often takes years, must be avoided: New logos, new slogans, new advertising campaigns, packages or core messages are not necessary. Such creative agitations only prevent trust from building. Brand management is about continuity and permanence – meaning consistency.

Openness: What are the hallmarks of brands that have been successful for 100 years or more? It is their spirit of innovation, their flexibility and their willingness to change constantly. If they continuously question the status quo, consumers can be sure that they are getting a forward-looking product when they buy this brand.

The five secrets of success for strong brand trust

What does this mean for strategic and tactical brand work? These are our success secrets:

  1. Be better: Trustworthy brands are winners. They deliver above-average performances and leave their competitors in the dust. If a brand can't do anything, nobody will expect much of it, much less trust it. So before you even think about building trust: Find out what it is your brand really does best. Use your successes and performances and demonstrate them over and over again, for as long as it takes to firmly imbed your brand's competence in people's minds.
  2. Be different: Consumers yearn for individuality. Everything that is common and interchangeable seems to be worth less and is viewed with suspicion. Nobody talks about the average. Only those who stand out from the mass of ordinariness are noticed and are interesting enough to be talked about.
  3. Be consistent: Strong brands never deviate from their chosen path. They never overstep the boundaries of their credibility. They do nothing that contradicts their values and positioning. They avoid anything that disturbs the process of building trust: new messages, logos or slogans; they only confuse things and reduce trust. In short: The more consistently you manage your brand, the greater the brand trust.
  4. Be transparent: Trustworthy brands communicate openly, honestly and without contradictions. Especially in the social media, communication that allows for criticism is essential for building trust. Promise nothing you can't keep. Lies are quickly revealed. Breeches of trust will come back to haunt you immediately and for a long time.
  5. Be loyal: One-sided love is painful. Do everything in your power to honor the trust that took such efforts to build. Show your customers that they are important to you. Take care of your regulars. Prove to them that you act consistently in similar situations. True loyalty, positive reviews, independent references and credible recommendations are the most effective factors for business success.
  6. Be meaningful: When you show credibly and demonstrably that you are positively impacting society and the environment, trust in you will increase (Edelman Trust 2019)

To summarize, brand trust leads to growth and profitability – while at the same time reducing risk. It directly impacts a company's core goals. That makes it clear: Brands are always a means to an end – and that end is the healthy and profitable growth of a company.
One last tip: Once you have succeeded at gaining consumer trust, never forget this insight by Otto von Bismarck:

"Trust is a tender plant. Once destroyed, it does not soon grow again."

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