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Building brands today requires first cultivating consumer trust

Thought Leadership

Trust | Trust & Love

Building brands

today requires

first cultivating

consumer trust

New attitudes complicate

the trust-love relationship

by Siddhant Lahiri

Head, Strategic Planning

Rediffusion Y&R


Are brand love and brand trust the same thing?

In the rapidly shifting sands of the marketing landscape, we find ourselves today in a strange place where the core definitions of the branding lexicon are evolving rapidly. It’s a reasonable assumption to say that love and trust will go hand in hand—when I love a brand, I trust it, and vice versa. However, in today’s increasingly complex communications environment, we are continuously discovering that there are exceptions to this rule.

There was an era when we all lived in times of constraints, when the scarcest commodity was money, and the biggest brands were those that earned the most. Today, in the age of plenty, surrounded by data leaks and hyper-availability of information, trust is the scarcest commodity.

Thus, some of the biggest/richest brands today are brands that have earned the most trust. Apple comes to mind instantly.

Broadly, there is a demarcation emerging between two kinds of brands in the marketing ecosystem: The Daal-Sabzi (comfort food) brands and the Street Food brands.

The daal-sabzi brands: “I trust you, but I don’t love you”

Think Tata. Think Amul, the dairy brand. Think State Bank of India. Think BSNL, the telecom provider. Brands we have grown up with. No one will debate that these are mammoth brands. Nobody will doubt their familiarity. Not a soul will question that these are brands we would trust with our eyes closed. But how many of us can sincerely say that we love these brands?

This is an increasing problem faced by heritage brands—brands that have provided decades of security and solidity to middle-class India, yet now find themselves slightly overshadowed in the millennial era by shinier, more glamourous brands. None of the heritage brands are going down without a fight, though. These brands are working hard to attract millennials, with active social media accounts, cooler products, or sexy advertising. And make no mistake—these brands remain the biggest in India. However, we were unlikely to see them on any “Most Loved” lists.

The street food brands: “I love you, but I don’t trust you”

We have all heard, read, and discussed the recent Facebook fiasco. We have all seen and shared the Mark Zuckerberg senate hearing clips on (ironically) Facebook. Most of us would agree that we are quite unsure about how much—and with how much—we are willing to trust the internet.

Yet how many of us have, since then, genuinely changed our behavior on Facebook? We are still regularly checking in at airports and sharing our holiday photos. The love for the brand—and living vicariously through social media—is simply too much.

However, we all are becoming increasingly careful with how much we are willing to give to these brands. So, while we cannot stop sharing our photos, at least we will put a profile picture guard on our photos. We are reluctant to use our real or full names on Tinder. Friend requests only get accepted after multiple rounds of introspection. We love these brands and just cannot live without them—but do we trust them completely?

The new chicken and egg: Which comes first—trust or love?

The relationship between trust and love becomes even more interesting—and complicated—when we look at slightly more traditional categories: apparel, for example, or electronics.

The process earlier was simple: ConsumptionLoveTrust.

That’s how our parents did it. You buy a product, you use it, you loved the product/experience, and then you start trusting the brand. This is the principle on which all major brands grew, be it Sony, Levi’s, Bata, Samsung, or Nokia. But those were different times.

Today, the process is slightly different: TrustConsumptionLove.

Nowadays, a brand must buy my trust even before I go near it. It may do so through stories of product excellence, ethical practices, or sharing values which I connect to. But in the maelstrom of communication by a sea of brands, trust is the first barrier to cross.

OnePlus builds trust via a discussion on democratization of technology (why should you pay more for the same tech?). Apple builds trust through a commitment to beauty and simplicity in technology (this is how tech should be!). Levi’s launches Water<Less jeans, which consume significantly less water in production. TOMS tells me that for every pair of shoes I buy, it will donate one pair, and FabIndia builds trust with its Fair Trade practice. These brands are aligned with my values, and care about the same things I care about. I trust these brands—wouldn’t you?

Interestingly, turns out men were all wrong. Size doesn’t matter. At least, not anymore. In an earlier age, a “big” company was synonymous with a “trustworthy” company. However, size is almost irrelevant to millennials. They are happy to embrace a OnePlus handset, an Everlane apparel item, and a Blue Tokai coffee in the face of far larger brands, and they are quick to reject certain giant brands simply because trust precedes and overpowers love today.

“You want to take me home? Buy me dinner first” is replaced by “you want me to take you home? Buy my trust first.” The message from the millennials is simple: earning my love and then getting me to trust you is not the game anymore. Love and trust don’t even go necessarily hand in hand anymore.

You want my love? You gotta first get my trust.