Trust: A Small Word With A Big Meaning

2020 has seen trust in politicians wane further with their handling of the Covid 19 crisis and a range of other issues. Research by the Reuters Institute and Oxford University found that trust in the UK government as a source of information on coronavirus fell from 67% in April to only 48% by the end of May.

It is not only politicians, however, who are feeling a loss of trust amongst their electorate. According to a 2020 study by Ford, 77% of USA consumers, 79% of consumers in both the UK and Spain and over 80% of consumers in France, Italy, Australia, India and Canada, find it difficult to trust companies.

The growing sense that trust is at a premium is partially explained by a rising level of expectation: 67% of adults globally have higher expectations for brands than they had in the past (Ford Trends).

This should be of grave concern to business leaders since the level of trust provides a succinct statement of the strength of a brand. Such a small word has a huge impact, but it also has an immensely wide range of connotations and meanings so “trust” needs to be defined and understood both generally and specifically.

When a brand makes a customer commitment, such as a no quibble returns policy, then trust is being assumed by the customer that it will be a hassle free process. If not, brand trust is eroded. So trust is partially measured by customers against anything that a brand makes as an explicit promise. In addition, however, there may be specific things that the customer assumes from a brand that contribute to trust. For example, trust in a bank may refer to one or more of: trust in keeping money safe; making ethical investments, or growing the value of investments. What is important for a brand is to uncover and understand the specific criteria against which trust is being measured and by which customer segments.

There is equally a more general sense of trust that consumers measure, related to how a brand should behave in respect of customers and society. It’s about doing the right thing in any circumstance. As businesses have emphasised their customer focus, so the customers’ expectations have now risen as to the sort of behaviour that they expect from a trustworthy brand, from taxation to how they treat their staff.

There is no doubt that effective brand management contributes significantly to building trust and, hence, business resilience. A longitudinal survey conducted by one client measured the degree of trust in a market sector compared to the degree of trust for individual brands within it. Key findings included the low level of trust for bankers per se being reversed when respondents were asked how much they trusted their bank and, secondly, the degree to which individual brands in a sector varied in levels of trust between each other and versus the sector level of trust. Trust is important but complex.

As well as the need to clearly define what “trust” means for a specific brand, it is also important to recognise that trust is a customer measurement and has to be earned. Consequently, “trust” should not be used as a brand value, as is sometimes done, and actually relates to how much a brand delivers its values. How a brand lives up to the expectations of customers also influences the level of trust. Brands that are proactive rather than reactive to issues tend to have stronger levels of trust since it suggests a higher level of control and commitment. When TalkTalk, a telephony and broadband provider in the UK, had a serious security breach a couple of years ago, the response was slow and tonally did not reflect how concerned customers were about it. As a consequence, it was estimated by Kantar that the brand lost 250,000 customers.

Building and maintaining trust is a fundamental part of managing a brand, but the reality is much more difficult as brand owners need to work at both a general level and a specific level, whilst coping with new and unforeseen challenges.

So how should trust be managed?

Firstly, companies need to identify and measure the key dimensions of trust applicable to your business, including promises made explicitly and implicitly, as well as those assumed by relevant target consumers.

Secondly, brands need to understand trust from the customer perspective and not an internal position, combined with an approach that is proactive and transparent.

Thirdly, remember that your staff are key ambassadors, so as well as measuring trust regularly amongst consumers, also engage staff and measure their opinion.

If you would like to find out more about the thinking in this article and discuss the approach that Candezent Advisory would take to help organisations, please feel free to contact us or email Jonathan Spence directly via .

Candezent Advisory is a network of highly experienced experts only, who use their extensive knowledge to advise organisations on how to compete more effectively through fresh thinking that is deliverable.