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How to build brand trust

5 min read

Back to Blog

5 min read

How to build brand trust

Author: Phil Birss
Posted in Branding on 8th September 2017 10:10 pm

We’d all rather do business with companies that we like and that we trust. Perhaps the most fraught consumer negotiation you can have is with the proverbial second-hand car salesman, due to the limited amount of faith that is typically brought to the table. This in fact creates an opportunity for larger dealerships to do a better job, however, providing guarantees and better service than their fly-by-night competitors – and thereby building a relationship of trust with the customer.

Losing faith

Perhaps the cardinal example of a brand torching consumer confidence was the case of Gerald Ratner, CEO of the Ratners Group jewellery businesses, who in a few short sentences insulted the quality of his products and thereby insulted his entire customer base. Shortly after, the firm would lose some £500 million of value. If the chief executive thought the earrings that he sold would fall apart faster than an “M&S prawn sandwich”, why would you trust them, after all?

Building trust, however, is far harder than burning it. Brand trust isn’t just about a product doing its job, whether it’s an earring or a second-hand car. It’s about the customer’s sense of the business, the quality of the service that the firm provides and the degree to which the brand is able to match itself to the customer’s needs. Indeed, the brand relationship covers the entire cycle of the consumer’s experience of the business.

The brand-consumer relationship

The first step comes long before the customer has made a purchase and is about building brand perception. What emotions does the business want to elicit from customers? What values does the company want consumers to associate with them? A bank might want to convey a sense of being formal and professional, and, at the same time, helpful; while a brand selling baby products may want to communicate that they are soft, sensitive, gentle, caring and safe.

These messages can be suggested by every part of the company’s branding – from its name to its slogan to the product’s packaging, all the while using visual cues to drive associations (for example, deploying suits and formal blue hues for banks; and happy toddlers and soft, pastel colours for baby products). And take a closer look at Amazon’s logo: as well as being a smile, it’s an arrow that connects ‘A’ to ‘Z’.

Furthermore, speaking in a consistent, relatable voice is a crucial part of a coherent brand identity. Brands wanting to hint at the healthiness and innocence of their products have gone a step further, using playful and childish language on their packaging to suggest that the product itself has the outlook of a child. Conversely, if a bank has a inexperienced youth manning their social media, however, they’ll simply look incompetent.

The brand journey then continues through the purchase process. Was purchasing the product simple, easy and enjoyable; and did the customer get what they wanted? Apple have achieved a tour-de-force in this area, laying out their stores as luxury shopping outlets; allowing people to browse the internet, so the stores are always buzzing; and staffing them with ‘geniuses’, who can help with any and all technical issues. In this environment, it only makes sense that Apple products cost a little more.

After-purchase support is the final step in the consumer journey – if the customer hits issues, can they get help? In a digital age, it’s all too easy for frustrated customers to vent their feelings on social media and online forums, so it pays to provide good service. US cable giant Comcast provided an example of what not to do when they managed to attract notoriety for the tortuous processes of their phone support services. Even companies that provide great service can get negative feedback online, of course. The key thing is to be attentive and to assist or at least to respond to criticism and complaints.

Getting a reputation

With a new business, it’s particularly important to give the highest possible quality of service to your first customers – after all, they can recommend your business to their contacts or they can damn it with negative reviews. And don’t be afraid to pursue customer feedback. If you don’t know what your service is lacking or what you’re doing wrong, then you can’t fix it. And when you have these positive customer interactions on record, make use of them.

A service-based business can make a lot of headway by providing customer testimonials, along with headshots, on their website – illustrating real people who have used the product and who customers can trust. A related technique is to encourage and incentivise customers to share a product with their networks. Dropbox’s most powerful growth hack was to give users additional free cloud storage for inviting their friends and contacts to the platform – and what’s more powerful than a recommendation from a personal acquaintance?

Trust vs cost

Free online services offer an interesting parallel – if you’re not paying for it, it’s frequently held, you’re the product. And while companies like Facebook have had periodic crises of confidence with users threatening to migrate to other services, these have generally been smoothed over with the tweaking of T&Cs and expanded sets of privacy settings. It seems that in this case the zero-cost of the product and the extraordinary power of network effects outweigh concerns over trust – where a business based on cash, like Amazon or Apple, might have a much harder time of it.

Fundamentally, trust is a cornerstone of brand sentiment for every business on Earth. Overseeing the customer’s relationship with the brand from perception to purchase to support is a tough job, but it’s at the heart of what every business does, whether they like it or not. People have been claiming for decades that brand trust is a thing of the past – but in the age of unlimited choice and instant online feedback, it’s more important today than ever.

If you feel that the brand experience of your business or organisation needs improving then please get in touch.

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