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Building Trust in Disruptive times

Building Trust in Disruptive times

Carol Ansara,

Director Brand Strategy and Guidance



The concept of Trust has usually been associated with stasis more than change. It brings up images of age-old, time-tested, large, and solid brands with loyal user bases: “Trusted by millions of loyal customers for over 100 years...” But in today’s disruptive environment, it is just as relevant – perhaps even more relevant – to talk about the importance of Trust in enabling not continuity, but change

Trust that triggers change requires a different set of rules than Trust that fosters continuity. There are no personal experiences or proofs from the past to rely on here. Instead, we are asking people to trust their judgement, their ability to read the signals accurately, and their ability to understand how the new rules work – even as these rules are being rewritten.

Who were the first few Airbnb hosts who decided to let strangers into their homes at night? Or the first few people who committed to a Xiaomi phone without ever laying eyes on one? Or the first Uber passengers who decided to ignore what their mothers told them and allowed a stranger to drive them home?

And what do disruptive brands do to inspire such leaps of faith?

Based on a global investigation into how and what people trust, Kantar has developed the “3 i’s” framework to provide useful direction for brands that want to inspire and sustain the trust of their audience.

Integrity: Doing what you promise

Integrity is still the foundation of Trust, but brands need to find new ways to signal it. What’s more, in an environment where it is so difficult to assess Integrity, Integrity alone is no longer sufficient.

Identification: Establishing a connection at a human level

When “facts,” authority, and other supposedly rational bases of Trust have become questionable, people revert to trusting their emotions. We are hardwired to trust those who are familiar and similar to us. Identification rests on the feeling that you’re “seeing” someone – that you have access to their real, authentic selves, even if these selves are not perfect.

Among other things, Identification means creating a human face for your brand, and signaling a set of values that you stand by. Our qualitative research shows that people appreciate brands that take a stance and are willing to “live their values” in the way that they run their business. Airbnb’s openness about its political views is an example of taking a stance that reflects the kind of clientele a brand wants to attract, even at the risk of polarizing its audience.

For some brands, this kind of Trust can be established through a charismatic CEO. But in the Netherlands, with such a strongly egalitarian culture, Identification may be more successfully achieved through consumers’ identification with the employees of an organization. We know for certain that Trust can be destroyed if employees are not treated fairly. Indeed, from our COVID-19 Barometer work, we saw that during the Health crisis, taking care of employees was the most important factor in building trust for a business.

Inclusion: Building a sense of kinship

We are programmed to trust people whom we think of as kin. The same sub-conscious thought process is at work when trusting brands or organizations.

The dramatic growth of local giants in many parts of the world is to some extent a reflection of this phenomenon. Will the trust established through Bol.com‘s “Dutchness” be able to withstand Amazon’s entry into the Netherlands?

A second strategy that builds a sense of kinship, and ultimately begets Trust, occurs when brands treat people as equals – when brands cede control, and invite personal investment through communities. For example, a large part of the success of the Dutch online peer-to-peer car lending platform Snappcar must come from how signals of Trust are established during registration. But the company’s mutual rating system also builds a circle of Trust through the way that it creates a family of lenders and users. As one review states: “A great company which protects both the user and the lender of the car, bringing peace of mind to everyone.”

Marketers have often thought of Trust as an outcome of doing everything else right. But in an environment where there is a crisis of Trust, it is important to have a proactive strategy – one that signals and inspires Trust in consumers who are navigating a disrupted world.