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Can Brands Earn Consumers’ Trust?

July 28, 2021


Can Brands Earn Consumers’ Trust?

Every year, we hear about how our customers are “more cynical” than ever. It’s enough to make us cynical ourselves! Yet, when we look at the numbers, we can’t deny the truth: people just don’t trust us.

Take a look at some of the latest:

·         Customers feel that 75 percent of brands could disappear and they’d find a replacement

·         Almost two-thirds of people prefer to buy from a brand that takes a stand on things

·         More than half will pay more for products from a brand that has a strong stance

·         Almost three-quarters feel brands should take stands on things like climate change

·         Despite that, more than 70 percent of people believe brands won’t keep their promises

That last statistic is the one that drives it home. People want, more than ever, to believe in us, but they don’t.

As Marketers, we need to help change that.

Why Trust Is the Single-Most Important Issue for a Brand

We live in a world where trust is in short supply, especially with this pandemic. People do not know who or what to trust. Do you trust the government? People have lost faith as we continue to roll between lockdowns, mixed messaging, WHO warnings, recalls of warnings and warnings again, global misalignment on what is safe or not.

What about science? While many people trust doctors and scientists, the last year has eroded our faith. There is a growing number of medical professionals trying to speak out and getting censored. The reported data and way things are measured seems to change to create the appropriate narrative.  The media has amplified the confusion and now division. The result is causing the average person to stop trusting in science. Why would we believe anything the “paid” media and medical faces tell us? 

And the discussion among our neighbours, friends, or family  may be more difficult as independent decision making and rationale is not being supported. We live in a world where data that is sourced to make decisions is funneled through an algorithm. So, two people on two sides of an argument may not consider doing the due diligence of conducting their own investigation to see both sides…as only one side of an argument continues to be fed.  

So, how can you ask us to trust brands and big companies, which tend to have a history of breaking promises to us? We’re already seeing a lot of commentary about “broken promises” in the wake of last year’s push for racial equality. People have accused brands of hijacking the body positivity movement. And, every June, there are plenty of discussions about “rainbow capitalism.”

A lot of people feel brands are out to make money and some are! They market promises they don’t intend to fulfill or sell “Pride month” exclusives. They can look like they’re supportive without actually living the values and belief structure internally.

This goes even further than social justice-type initiatives, though. Tim Horton’s saying “we support community,” but funneling profits to a big American head office, paying their employees minimum wage or keeping their hours under the level required for benefits. These same employees hired from the local communities. So many stories, true or notthat are on the street that would shake a “community” position. 

Moving the Focus: Becoming Real

A lot of our brands don’t mean to be deceptive. In fact, a lot of us make promises we believe in. Then something happens to undermine it. We don’t get C-suite buy-in or our budgets get slashed.

An example is grocery store chain Sobeys introducing their “out serve” program. “Out serve” was intended to ensure every customer received outstanding service. A position unique to Wal-Mart. The program included values about making sure the customer was always front and center.

And then the company proceeded to slash hours at “underperforming” stores. How can you ask employees to go above and beyond for every customer when you don't have enough staff to keep the shelves stocked or more than one cash register open?

The company probably didn’t mean to undermine the values set out in their program. In fact, they probably did believe their customers were the most important thing.

Some CFO looked at the bottom line though and made cuts to preserve profit. The company did not consider the customer or stated values in order to deliver profit. They got distracted by the goal of making money.

And so many people confuse that goal with the purpose of the brand. Purpose-wise, we can see Sobeys and Wal-Mart have two very different reasons for being! Wal-Mart’s purpose is to mass buy and pass those savings to the customer through everyday low pricing. Sobey’s with their “out serve program” was focusing on delivering outstanding customer care/service.

They both are in business to make money. But each brand is seeking to differentiate themselves through price or experience. The issue becomes clear when Sobey’s staff required to create the “care” differentiation are cut and the entire shopping experience becomes less. 

So, what happened to Sobeys when they cut staff they could not deliver on the customer care experience defined by their purpose. Sobeys is an “all-frills” shopping experience. Shopping occasions and even the customer target for Sobeys would likely be unique to Wal-Mart. They’re usually more affluent, willing to pay somewhat more for their groceries. They expect full-service delicatessens, meat counters, and floral departments. People who go to Wal-Mart don’t want to pay for the frills; they want to get great deals on the staples.

The companies serve two different sets of people and occasions and the two brands have two different purposes. When brands can recognize that and find their purpose, they’re in a better position to stop leaving a trail of broken promises behind them.

Giving Customers a Reason to Doubt Us

Sobeys even shows us how customer cynicism originates. Sobeys communicated their “out serve” values to customers in a series of promises. Customers no doubt became cynical when they saw all these promises about “the best service” while they were waiting 30 minutes in the check-out line.

The answer to this is to make sure our actions deliver the purpose of a brand. Sobeys needing to deliver their budget prioritized their money-making goal, at the cost of the customer experience. 

And this happens all the time—you can probably think of a few examples on your own. It’s no wonder our customers don’t trust us when we say we support this or value that!

Again, we see this all comes out of the same problem: brands misplace purpose and focus on “making money.” Hootsuite did it when they prioritized teaming up with ICE. LUSH partnering with the cops or supporting a particular charity might have had “kickbacks” for the company. And a company that claims to be green, then is exposed doing something not green, likely did the “not green” thing because it was cheaper.

So, if we want to build trust … we have to figure out our purpose and put it front and centre!

Trust Builds Relationships (Which Leads to Profit)

Most people who argue against purpose say that money-making is the reason any business exists. After all, if you’re not making money, you might not be around very long. And this stance usually suggests that purpose won’t help you make money.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Go back and look at those stats again:

·         64 percent of people want to buy from brands that take stances

·         53 percent will pay more for products from brands that take a stand

·         73 percent want us to take stands!

Why? Because it’s all about relationships. People talk about Millennials and Gen Z wanting relationships with brands as a new phenomenon. But in reality, we all want relationships with brands. We want to buy things from brands that treat us well. We want to buy from brands that make us feel good.

Think about Sobeys again. Your local grocery store likely employs some people you know. Even if you moved in and you don’t know anyone in your new city, you’ll likely get to know the people at the grocery store. A lot of us shop on the same day every week! And many employees work the same or similar shifts, so we’ll get to recognize people there.

The employees can make us feel welcome—or not. And we know they likely live in our new community or close to that community. We might feel confident asking them about ordering in a new product or other businesses where we can shop or special events in town.

Or how about your barista at Starbucks? Lots of people find their local coffee shop—and especially the person slinging coffee behind the counter—is a hub of community! They see their barista (who knows their “usual” and jokes with them); they see other regulars. They might find out about community events.

What’s all this have in common? It’s about relationships between people. The same thing happens when we buy an Apple computer and have trouble or we have to ask a question about our order from LUSH. We deal with people whose job it is to make sure we’re happy and satisfied, but we’re in relationship with them. And when we interact with brands on social media, we’re having relationships with the people behind the account—and the brand.

When our favourite brand takes a stand on an issue we care about, we feel even better about connecting with them! They care about the same things we do, and by supporting that brand, we’re also taking a stand. When we buy from Tentree instead of H&M, we’re saying we support sustainable fashion!

How Does That Lead to Profit?

How does this lead us to profit? It’s not quite “build it and they will come.” When people feel aligned with our purpose, they will gravitate to us. When they feel they can trust us, they will continue to build relationships with us. That usually means more support. And more support runs the gamut from following us on social media to buying more from us and more often.

When people believe in us, they want to support us. They choose to buy from us. And they recommend us to others.

In that way, purpose drives profit.

How Can We Build Trust?

Discovering our purpose—what’s driving our brands, why we exist—is the first step to increasing trust. The next is making sure we’re acting authentically—that we’re not just talking the talk but walking the walk too!

With that in mind: remember to start with the why!


A little more about me. My goal is and always will be to inspire and create conversation!

I am a businessperson who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles, I have written to inspire others.

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