The Importance of Trust

You want your customers to trust your brand. You work very hard to build that trust. It can be, however, a very fleeting entity. And once lost, it is extremely difficult to win back.

One need only view the level of trust the American people have had in the Federal Government from 1958 – 2013 according to a Pew Research study from October 18, 2013.

In looking at the chart to the left, the United States Government has yet to recover from the damage done by President Johnson’s Vietnam policies of the early 1960’s, nearly 50 years ago.

Granted, governments are typically seen as less trust-worthy than consumer brands. However, the ability to win back the trust of a citizen or a consumer is equally as difficult.

trust in marketing

This isn’t limited to the United States, either. Chinese brands may just be the poster children for losing consumer trust domestically and internationally.

President and CEO of DDB Greater China, Dick van Motman, states this directly and eloquently in a 2012 CampaignAsia article, “Building Trust:”

“Can I be honest with you? Chinese consumers are just not that into us – foreign, domestic, big or small. We try to win their hearts with poetic propositions when we can’t even gain their trust with the simplest of products. They’re looking for more security than we’ve been offering thus far. Communicating respect for the consumer and responsibility for everything brands say, and do.”

He continues on to list a spate of incidences from toxic laced baby formula to an electronics firm claiming no design flaws despite numerous complaints to the contrary with many different levels of deceit in between.

Mr. van Motman poses a series of poignant questions, “Are we moving too fast, buying and borrowing brands rather than carefully building them? Are we neglecting our responsibility as brand guardians to be fully committed to the safety and quality of the products that walk the brands’ talk?”

How is trust rebuilt? Mr. van Motman believes it is done through respect, responsibility and transparency. This wholeheartedly makes sense, yet there’s a difference between our views of how it should be delivered. Brands tend to view trust as a one-way street from the consumer up to the brand.

But, we all know from our relationships that trust is a two-way street. It doesn’t work with only one party having trust in the other. Brands need to trust consumers. The more trust consumers feel from a brand, the more inclined they will be to trust the brand in return.

Using Trust to Elevate Customer Service

To highlight one particular brand that understands this and has tremendous success for it, L.L. Bean will refund a customers’ purchase price for an item regardless of how long ago the purchase was made.

As a result, customers rave about the company and their customer service. I personally have become a loyal customer because of a situation a friend of mine relayed to me.

He bought a tent from L.L. Bean nearly 20 years ago. Admittedly, he had left the tent in his attic unused for at least the last five years. Retrieving it recently, he noticed the waterproof coating was delaminating from the tent material.

He looked online hoping to buy a replacement; however, L.L. Bean stopped selling that particular tent. He called customer service to find out which tent they felt was most like the one he had. Customer asked him why he was looking to replace it.

When they heard about the delamination problem, they quickly offered him a replacement tent at no charge, not even shipping, and this was for a 20 year old tent!

On top of that, he received a check in the mail a few days after receiving his replacement tent with the explanation that the replacement was less expensive than the one he originally purchased and L.L. Bean was refunding the difference.

The trust L.L. Bean has in its customers is built on the belief that their products and customer service are so good that very few people will take advantage of them. They trust their customers.

A few more recommendations on how to demonstrate trust in the consumer:

  • Eliminate the lengthy and difficult to understand Terms of Service (ToS); here is a good place to start – Terms of Service Didn’t Read
  • Acknowledge a problem early and take specific and concrete actions to address the problem in public – unlike General Motors’ fatal ignition switch defect which they were aware of for a decade before taking action
  • Respect customer complaints and respond to them openly
  • Privacy is paramount – invest in the best encryption technology; be honest about how secure your systems are; and act quickly if/when there is a breach


When you trust your consumers enough to communicate openly and honestly they will be willing to trust you in return.

Brands Must Be Transparent to Consumers

A recent Fast Company article speaks directly to this issue of trust. Thomas Ordahl, Chief Strategy Officer for Landor (one of the top branding agencies in the world) states, “You cannot get away with bullshit anymore.”

The article puts forth the premise that brands must open up to consumers about all of their operations. It shows a fairly dramatic video of how McDonald’s manufactures the McRib sandwich.

I applaud McDonald’s for their openness and I doubt it will cause any loss in sales or revenue. Whether it increases sales is yet to be determined.

Will Nike and clothing/sports brands be so bold as to allow the public to view the conditions of the factory workers in their offshore operations? They should. The lesson here is to stop with the pictures on your websites and printed materials that inaccurately represent the actual experience is a good place to start.

TMI? I think not. Building and maintaining the trust of your customers demands it.

About the Author

Steven Herron

Steven Herron has over 20 years in sales and marketing on the client and agency sides, primarily in new business development, account management, strategy development and execution, and solution analysis, and working with clients in leisure products, hospitality, technology, and sports marketing.

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