Trust has long been touted as the bedrock of all relationships. It is no different in business. Gaining and keeping the consumer’s trust has become the most sought after virtue by brands, more so after the turbulence that the global economy has been rocked by. Brands that managed to hold customer trust were able to ride out the rough patch better than those who didn’t carry a ‘trust’ deposit.
Trust is intangible, something that can’t be measured. It is a dynamic, organic value that never exists from the start, cannot be taken for granted. Trust is an emotional skill, an active cache that is built and sustained with promises and commitments, emotions and integrity and, above all, actions. It shifts constantly, something the brand needs to be aware of.
The most trusted brands were ones that were either big or had existed for long. Scale and lineage seemed sufficient for success and to set up a virtuous cycle of trust. If you were big and had been there long enough, you could be trusted. It was called experience. These brands built large trust deposits by keeping promises made to customers. They were conscious of their credibility. That was the key to acceptance by new customers and continued patronage by existing ones.
However, trust works when it is not challenged. Surprisingly, one could blame the most liberating of words for that erosion: choice. There is an erosion of trust as consumers are flooded with choice and promises, some of which one finds hard to ‘trust’.
Meanwhile, trust has acquired new determinants — time and transparency. The value of time, shortening business cycles and ever-thinning buffers in the business process have ensured that just keeping promises is not enough. Keeping promises on time is the new requirement.
Transparency is another determinant, in addition to two others: credibility and reliability. Credibility has to do with the words the brand speaks and reliability has to do with actions. Both words and actions have to become transparent and visible to consumers now.
The key to creating such trust is communication — willingness to bring an uncomfortable subject into the open. The consumer seeks disclosure and hates to be surprised with information that tells him or her that there was a gap in the decision process. Nobody likes to be taken for a ride.
So, if size for a brand is no longer a guarantee for trust, what is? Perhaps, being ‘connected’ is the answer. A connected brand places great emphasis on establishment of relationships and a collaborative approach to business.
People trust brands they perceive to be part of the local community and culture. The key would be for brands to widen the river-bed of the reality they operate in. Narrow profit-taking and focus may be good for building up momentum. But the most fertile regions are where the river overflows and creates flood plains.
The writer is Chief Marketing Officer, Max New York Life Insurance