Why Trust Trumps Brand Messaging

As you can imagine, we do quite a bit of brand work. Frankly, it’s one of our favorite things to do. Working with new product launches or start-ups is particularly exciting. The entire world is at our fingertips. We can craft the perfect story and message to encapsulate the heart and purpose of the organization.

Even when established brands need help taking their brands in a new direction, the work is exhilarating. I don’t think there is anything more challenging or more rewarding than boiling down a company’s tools, technologies, people, and culture into a succinct, powerful story that helps them connect with customers.

Great companies have personality. They have history and stories to tell. They have unique products and services. They aspire to solve problems and serve their various market segments.

However, one thing that often gets overlooked when companies build their brand is trust.

Why Trust Matters


You can have the perfect brand architecture. You can zero in on the right audience with the right products with the right message and still fail if you’re not trusted.

Millennials – many companies’ most sought after demographic -- are as leery of advertising as any generation in history. They’re the social generation. They trust the opinions of their family and friends, and even anonymous strangers on the Internet, far more than they trust what companies say about themselves. They trust people far more than any brand message.

For this reason, earning positive word of mouth is critical. And it can’t be faked.

Too many established companies forget this critical aspect of branding. They bombard us with ads or new products that are supposed to change the way we perceive them. Change how we interact with them. But, products, price, and position are only part of the story.

Some of the most spectacular fails have come from big companies with new products that actually could have been viable. Think about AOL. They’ve quietly put together a viable collection of web properties. However, they’re still failing. Why? Because they lost our collective trust when they carpet bombed the country with CDs for 10 years and made it virtually impossible to cancel their service.

They were once an Internet giant. Now they’re an afterthought.

When your cable company tries to sell you one of their new services, do you really believe they have your best interest in mind? Too many cable providers have operated in a quasi-monopolistic manner, taking their customers for granted and making promises they never intended to keep.

And it’s not just technology companies. Think about the times where deals or coupons had hidden strings. Or when the service you just signed up for requires you to add multiple additional services to make it really work (cough, cough SiteCatalyst). Or when you were added to email lists without your permission.

How to Build Trust


There are a lot of ways smart brands build trust. By promoting thought leadership, practicing true transparency, offering quick and responsive customer service, taking accountability for their decisions, engaging with fans in fun and non-salesy ways, and through social responsibility – standing for something bigger than just profits.

It’s a lot to juggle, but in this age of consumer awareness, brands have to find a way.

It’s okay to make mistakes along the way. It’s okay to have product fails. That’s business. That’s life. In fact, dealing effectively with mistakes is sometimes more effective than not making any, because it humanizes your brand. Customers are okay with the occasional mistake if you’ve fought hard to earn their trust, and if you fight hard to win it back after a slip up.

What they’re not okay with is being systematically over-promised or over-sold. They’re not okay with being treated as a cost or disrespected. Too many firms try to manipulate and coerce instead of building real relationships based on mutual trust.

The Takeaway


At the end of the day all brands should aspire to do one thing above all others --- have their customers trust them.

Because you can have the best products. The perfect message. The best marketing campaigns. A long list of USPs.

But all of that is lost if you don’t have trust.

Trust trumps your brand message. Trust trumps position. Trust trumps product.

Trust is everything.

Written by Brian Easter on May 1, 2014


Add A Comment

@ Nancy - I agree - it's funny how often trust and authenticity are overlooked. Thank you for reading, sharing, and especially for the kind words!

Nancy Bistritz says:

In the past decade, I've been intimately involved in six re-branding or go-to-market exercises (including the re-launch of a publication). While each one has been a learning experience in its own right and I've learned a great deal professionally, ironically, the one thing everyone has forgotten each time is the element of trust. The exercises have been focused on products and services; messaging; new logos; and catchy taglines, but the exercises never started with: Let's figure out how we can build (or re-build) trust. My guess is that it's because solving that is not only challenging for most organizations, it's time consuming, and it requires an inward perspective, as well as an admission of things a company may not be doing so well (oh, the horror!). Trust not only trumps what you've listed above, it also trumps all of the other bells and whistles and bright and shiny objects that make a branding or re-branding exercise so enticing. Another great read from Nebo.

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Written by
Brian Easter