Spotlight on Trust
Brands are in a long-term relationship with their customers – and as in all relationships, Trust is key. In the commercial sphere, Trust is the instinctive belief that a brand is ‘right’ for the consumer – especially compared to other brands that may have let the consumer down.
Trust is an emotional valence, which makes some marketers nervous – because they associate emotion with irrationality and unknowability. But these fears are unfounded. Trust can be built, step by step, by attending to 10 verifiable and achievable components, grouped under three key pillars we call the Three I’s of Trust. The Three I’s were developed and back-tested using a combination of BrandZ™ data and social listening tools. They are:
- Integrity: Doing what you promise
- Identification: Connecting on a human level
- Inclusion: Building a sense of kinship
The most trusted brands in Japan – which includes names like ANA, Yamato Transport, and Japan Post – indeed tend to score highly across Integrity, Identity, and Inclusion:
Consumers are quick to notice if a brand says one thing but does another. Conversely, if a brand’s values and actions are aligned, it can be said that this brand has Integrity – a key pillar of trust. At the high level, Integrity means “Doing what you promise.” On a tactical level, it can be broken down into four components.
Create consistent experiences
Trust is built through consistent brand experience. Repeated positive experiences with a brand create the expectation of the similar outcomes in the future – while erratic outcomes leave consumers feeling wary and confused. As an illustration of this, one social informant in Japan recently described her experiences getting an Amazon order delivered by Yamato Transport as well as one of Yamato’s competitors:
Recently, I ordered a shipment from Amazon, but did not use Yamato ...the person in charge was not so skillful, it makes me realize how great Yamato’s staff service has been.
Own your mistakes
No brand is perfect – and consumers know this. But consumers also notice whether, after a mistake is made, the brand is able to show courage, own its error, and be proactive in fixing the situation. Social listening provides another example of Yamato Transport getting this right:
A product I purchased via Amazon arrived at a different center due to Yamato’s sorting error (which is very unusual. But today it arrived safely despite some delay. Thank you as always!
Larger scale efforts in this area – which may call upon the expertise of public relations professionals as well as marketers – occur when a brand suffers a safety recall or large-scale public setback. The key is to act fast to regain trust. For example, after a product contamination incident the noodle brand Peyang took several swift steps in quick succession: it apologized to the public, recalled all products, temporarily suspended its production line, conducted thorough inspections, and transparently implemented new preventative measures.
Provide social proof
Again, brands shouldn’t just say they stand for something – they should go out into communities and “walk the talk” by living their values across all areas of their operations, from product design to marketing to social responsibility programs.
In the digital age, the notion of “respecting boundaries” is more relevant than ever. Even as they become ever more targeted and personalized, a brand’s marketing and product offerings should never cross the line into becoming intrusive, unwelcome, or otherwise “creepy.” Customer’s data should be safely protected, and the customer should never feel like they are being exploited or tricked for the sake of a quick profit.
At the core, trust in brands is based on trust in humans. So whenever possible, emphasize the side of your brand that’s based on human kindness, judgment, and understanding – rather than faceless, inflexible protocols.
In other words: Be real, vulnerable, and transparent. Being real is about putting a believable face to the brand – indeed, this “human face” is one of the most crucial foundations of trust. Show the “human touch” involved in providing a product or service to the consumer – and if necessary, re-engineer certain processes to make sure this “human touch” is emphasized. And reward employees who go above and beyond to serve as great brand ambassadors.
Brands should tailor their responses to meet customers’ personal needs. Life is more complicated than ever. Brands should acknowledge the messiness of the human experience by responding in the moment and being prepared to bend a few rules – like you yourself would do for a friend in need. Consider this example from social listening – when a brand bends the rules a little and “does a favor” for a customer, the customer feels inclined to return the favor down the road:
I am very happy that ANA has contacted me to say that they will extend my loyalty status until next year. I will be using ANA in the future, so please hang on!
Another good example of this kind of personal touch – a social listening example of the same brand, ANA, supporting a different customer when they needed it the most:
So, I plan to go back to my hometown next month. I have booked all the tickets. Since I will be hanging around the mountains, river, and ocean around my rural countryside hometown, I feel there is lower risk from the virus than where I am now. Thank you wholeheartedly, ANA, for working really hard to reissue my cancelled flight with a new schedule.
Signal your values
Rather than bouncing from cause to cause, brands should look to project an enduring set of values and a core social focus. Consider, for example, the software company Cybozu, which has had a longstanding involvement with the issue of better working conditions.
Once they’ve hit on the areas where they feel destined to make a difference, brands should take on a larger role advocating for their community – much like a human leader would. Take this example from social listening:
This morning at work, we received a drink donation from JAL for our medical workers! Tea, soda, tomato juice, and a lot more. Many handwritten cards were also attached from people like mechanics. I'm sure people at the airline are having a hard time too, so.... Ugh....I'm so happy...I'm crying for their kindness.
Relationships are not static entities. They’re stories that unfold over time, with each participant getting to write different chapters. Relationships are also reciprocal: meaning that they should never be thought of as one-way exchanges, but rather as a constant, friendly give-and-take.
Treat me as an equal
Being treated as an equal engenders a virtuous cycle of reciprocity, respect, and acceptance. When a brand takes suggestions from its consumers, or rewards loyalty, or personalizes its service approach – it serves to expand the typical business-consumer dynamic beyond the typical, transactional dynamic of “You pay for a product and then we provide it.”
As one consumer put it about airline brand Skymark:
I really like Skymark because they are friendly to sick and disabled people like me.
Celebrate our longevity
Time is one of brands’ greatest assets for brands seeking to build Trust. Trust naturally compounds over time – a process that brands can leverage by finding ways to celebrate significant milestones in their long-term relationships with consumers. Rewards programs packed with benefits, privileges and special events have become even more sophisticated in the age of social media – but the best ones still involve tangible rewards and human touch.