How to build brand trust

Marked by extreme economic uncertainty, deepening social divisions, and the lingering impact of the pandemic, Edelman Trust Barometer states that “economic optimism has collapsed” in 2023 and the result has been the deepening polarization of society and a widespread breakdown of trust in almost every sector.

According to Edelman's findings, “businesses” (more so than governments, media, and NGOs) have become, by default, the most trusted pillar of modern society. To those surveyed by Edelman, businesses might be nothing more than the best of a bad bunch. But there is an opportunity inherent in the general decline in trust. When trust is more elusive than ever, those who understand and value its significance can stand up and stand out.

Morning Consult's "Most Trusted Brands Report" top 10 trusted brands in the United States are as follows:

  1. Band-Aid
  2. UPS
  3. Amazon
  4. Lysol
  5. Kleenex
  6. Cheerios
  7. Visa
  8. Dove
  9. The Weather Channel
  10. FedEx

The first thing we notice is that all of them are household names. Which makes sense. After all, if you’re going to let something, even a product or brand, into your home, you have to trust it.

But it poses an interesting question. Do we trust these brands because we’ve let them into our homes, or do we let them into our homes because we trust them?

Ultimately, we believe the answer is both, and the mechanics of why and how trust is built can be incredibly instructive in the current climate of mistrust.

So how can you build trust?

Put simply, trust is earned.

It is earned by repeatedly delivering on your promises.

There are two factors at play here:
1. Making an authentic promise and 2. Delivering on it repeatedly.

1. Making an authentic promise:
Noticeably none of the businesses in Morning Consult’s top 10 most-trusted brands are tech businesses (apart from Amazon, which we will come on to). Despite initially approachable-seeming tech founders claiming to be changing the world for the better and seeming to usher in a new era of humanized business, tech brands have been unable to uphold these promises.

In fact, it might be because of these grand promises and high hopes that the fall has been so hard. Meta claims to "protect people" as a part of their 'corporate values,' and Google famously ran with the mission to "not be evil." Even Apple, in their '1984' commercial, often cited as the best commercial ever made, set themselves up as the anti-establishment, anti-hegemonic brand.

Compare this to the promises made by Band-Aid, UPS, Dove, Lysol, and others on the Morning Consult's list, and we see a stark contrast. For instance:

  • Band-Aid, the most well-known adhesive bandage brand in the US, promises to cover wounds and stay on until you want it off. Cleverly, yet simply expressed in its slogan and jingle birthed in the 1970s “I’m stuck on Band-Aid brand, cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me,” the company continues to deliver on its sticky and straight-forward promise through innovative product form factors and features.
  • Lysol says that “Killing germs is our #1 job.” They deliver on this promise by focusing its product line only on cleaning and disinfecting offerings and ensuring that every product is held up to their standard and can feature the label “Kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.”

These brands make promises that are more down-to-earth and focused on delivering practical benefits to consumers, rather than grandiose statements about changing the world.

Gone are the halcyon days of the benevolent tech founders working out of their garage stealing light for us mortals.

Accusations of privacy issues, data leaks, predatory selling, monopolistic practices, copyright infringement, and even political meddling have dogged the tech sector recently. Now, in this year of economic uncertainty, waves and waves of tech layoffs are highlighting that, just like the corporate businesses they promised to supersede, these billionaires in hoodies and jeans are wolves in sheep's clothing.

2. Delivering on your promisesHowever, we are not counseling against ambition. In fact, there is an exception to our rule that tech businesses have overpromised and underdelivered and therefore aren’t trusted.

Amazon is second on Morning Consult's list. Their vision is to be "the most customer-centric company on earth." And yet the difference is the everyday interactions they deliver on. They have built their brand on reliable innovation. Cheap online book sales have, over 30 years, morphed into 'one-click' purchasing and 'next day' (even 'same day') delivery on almost any conceivable product on the planet. Yet when you click, you trust your product will show up the next day. Because it always does, and when it doesn't, Amazon is known for refunding and making reparations with no questions asked.

The brands in Morning Consult's top 10 have succeeded in winning the trust of consumers by consistently delivering on their promises and proving their reliability through everyday actions, rather than making grandiose claims. No brand makes this more clear than Lysol.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge for businesses worldwide, and amid the uncertainty and fear, the brand Lysol found itself with a unique opportunity to build trust. As a well-established name in the cleaning and disinfecting industry, Lysol quickly became synonymous with safety and protection during the health crisis. Its promise is large (to kill 99.9% of germs). But, that is all it claims to do, and it is a claim they can back up. They don’t claim to be changing the world or saving people. By providing accurate information, transparent communication, and access to essential products, Lysol demonstrated its commitment to its promise. As the pandemic unfolded, Lysol's responsiveness and dedication to its customers contributed to fostering trust, solidifying its position as a go-to choice for hygiene solutions in households, workplaces, and public spaces alike.

Trust is not an overnight feat; it requires continuous effort and repetition. Brands must demonstrate their reliability through multiple small actions, ensuring they fulfill their commitments time and again. It makes sense that small promises are easier to fulfill, but also those brands that have more daily opportunities to demonstrably be reliable will be seen as more reliable.

Differentiation through trust building
Building trust involves making genuine *authentic* promises and consistently delivering on them. Finding small daily ways to reinforce your authenticity and reliability.

As consumers become more discerning, and trust in your peers and competitors is running low, those that can build it will have a distinct advantage.

By understanding the mechanics of trust-building, brands can rise above the deepening polarization and broken trust in society, standing out as beacons of reliability and authenticity in these uncertain times.

Need help identifying how your company can build trust through brand? Reach out!

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