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Spotlight on Trust

Spotlight on Trust

Brands and businesses are in a long-term relationship with their customers – and as in all relationships, Trust is key. This is especially true in these uncertain times, when consumers are flocking to bastions of Trust to keep themselves safe and secure. In the Netherlands, for instance, Dutch web traffic to national news sites spiked as the coronavirus made its initial throughout the country: in times of perceived life-or-death peril, people went straight for the outlets they saw as highly trustworthy.

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.

BrandZ™ Trust scores are based on two main factors: Corporate Responsibility and Expert Reliability. Corporate Responsibility involves factors such as looking after your customers and employees, protecting the environment, and not abusing your size or scale as a company.

Expert Reliability, meanwhile, is based on traits like craftsmanship, expertise, and delivering on a certain brand promise reliably and consistently over time.

In the past, companies deployed corporate responsibility tactically, to impress a narrow band of stakeholders – and reliability was thought of as mainly a functional concern. Today, however, people expect brands to exhibit responsibility, reliability, and Trust throughout consumers’ everyday interactions with a brand. As a result, brands seeking to fullyfully exemplify Trust should move beyond tactical activationsactivations - to consider, instead, how they can more fully inhabit human values like empathy and reciprocity. Customer demand for this kind of Trust boils down to a simple request for brands: “Show me that you care.”

Because this side of Trust is more emotionally based, it can make 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 three key pillars we call the Three I’s of Trust, which together comprise a new kind of Trust measure called the Inspiring Expectations Index. 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

This year, the Netherlands’ “growing brands” scored well above average, and above the Dutch Top 30 as a while, on the Inspiring Expectation Index:

Each of the underlying elements of the Inspiring Expectations Index showsshows a similar


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, Integrity means creating consistent, positive experiences for customers – and owning your mistakes when reality falls short of your brand’s standards. No brand is perfect, and consumers know this. But consumers also notice whether, after a mistake is made, a brand is able to show courage, own its error, and be proactive in fixing the situation.

Integrity also means that brands 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. They shouldn’t say one thing but do another. Nor should they be too familiar with customers to the point of seeming intrusive, unwelcome, or otherwise “creepy. Customers 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.

WAYS TO WIN: In the Netherlands, a good example of a brand with Integrity is the telecom brand KPN. The brand has a big role as the nation’s internet and telecom provider. Fittingly, then, in its brand messaging and operations, KPN openly embraces this responsibility for keeping the country connected in a reliable, sustainable way. When Dutch citizens collectively started working from home in March 2020, many consumers were worried that KPN’s internet and phone networks would not be able to withstand the extra stress on their systems. KPN reacted quickly and transparently, providing the public with real-time monitoring of their network, as well as implementing daily, publicized performance evaluations. In doing so, KPN kept its promise to the Dutch people.


At the core, trust in brands is based on trust in the humans who work for that brand. 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 today. 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.

Just like humans, brands should also signal their values. This doesn’t mean bouncing from cause to cause, or trying to save the world in every way. Instead, brands should look to project an enduring set of values and a core social focus. 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.

WAYS TO WIN. Sometimes being “human” means making the principled decision to put people over profits. recently took a clear stance that they would no longer show images or sell products that support the blackface character “Zwarte Piet.” In doing so, took a stand to avoid hurting people of color in the Netherlands – even though this angered some parts of their audience (there was even talk of a boycot) and also meant gave up sales of certain products. After made this stance, many of its soon instituted similar policies – making a true example of brand leadership.


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.

Brands should treat customers as equals. Being treated as an equal creates 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 enlarges its relationships beyond the typical, transactional dynamic of “You pay for a product, and then we provide it.”

Brands should also celebrate relationships’ longevity. Time is one of brands’ greatest assets for building Trust. Trust naturally compounds over time – a process that brands can leverage by finding ways to celebrate significant milestones in their long-term partnerships 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.

Lastly, in an increasingly diverse Dutch society, treating customers as equals means going the extra mile to accommodate people’s special needs – the same way you would if you were having a friend over to your house. This could mean anything from making adjustments to empower disabled customers, to accommodating a wide range of religious or ethical dietary preferences.

Ways  to win:

Albert Heijn has long been known as an inclusive, multicultural employer. For instance, it was one of the first major retail chains to actively welcome employees who wear headscarves. In addition to being the first supermarket in the Netherlands to import many foreign foods, Albert Heijn has also been a forerunner in reaching the vegan community with an extensive range of products. This inclusiveness has paid dividends in the BrandZ™ index in many different ways: it scores high for “leading the way” and Innovation - which in turn has bolstered the company’s Meaninful Difference scores. Albert Heijn also ranks exceptionally high in terms of Brand Power, which means the chain has a high ability to drive repeat business.