I look at the recent debacles of Brian Williams and Bill Cosby and I am reminded how important trust is not only for people but brands too. Before the public learned that Brian Williams had embellished the truth, Williams was ranked as the 23rd most trusted celebrity in the country. After his statements about being in the middle of combat war were questioned, he fell to 835 on the list (according to The Marketing Arm). (Source) Bill Cosby had the persona of a great family man and positive role model. Then a plethora of drugging and rape allegations resurfaced. Rightfully so, his persona and brand are shattered.
What is the take away for marketers? Your persona, or brand can be destroyed by one false step. Your trust can be demolished by one bad move. Trust is something you earn and win perpetually. You always need to work to establish and sustain trust from your target audience.
I believe that brand trust is exponentially more important today than days prior to digital technology. Prior to the ubiquitous use of digital technologies and devices, almost all information about a brand and their products and services came from, and were distributed by the brand. Today, that is not true. If you do a search for a product or service on the Internet and social platforms, you will find more people referencing the brand than communication coming from the brand. Brand reputation and trust is no longer established by a fabricated company design by a company, but rather is in the hands of the democratic republic of digital users.
So given this reality, brands must now have a strategy for managing and influencing their reputation and trust factor. I really like an approach I read in a recent blog post …
• Review regularly – Regular auditing of brand perception will help to assess threats and weaknesses – give you some foresight around areas to watch and emerging risks.
• Show empathy – It is important to update your audiences on a regular basis and act to show that the safety and well-being of your customers is your number one priority.
• Talk naturally – Consumers tend to respond badly to overwrought messages that sound too corporate or too familiar online.
• Act fast – The first 24 hours of a crisis are when people are turning to each other for answers. Be ready to respond.
• Become the hub of the issue – Since you know that people are looking for information on a topic, become the hub of all information. While you can’t control the conversation, make sure your opinion is prominently seen and demonstrates authority.
There are a couple of things I would add to the bullet points above. First off, be truthful. It is easy for bogus claims and statements to be questioned and verified as false when you have so many looking and watching what you are doing. And if even one digital user unearths unsubstantiated statements, he/she has a strong way of voicing their concerns on platforms that move information to a large audience at lightning speed.
The second element I would add to the bullet points is that companies that look to win over a target audience should consider supporting a social cause that makes sense for their business. 90% of Americans are more likely to trust brands that back social causes.
While I was doing some research on issues related to brand trust, I found a very interesting point highlighted in a blog post by Bruce Turkel. In his article “Brian Williams is Toast” he talks about Bill Clinton lying when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Today, Clinton is one of the world’s most beloved politicians. Why wasn’t his trust destroyed? It comes down to expectations. Everyone expects politicians to lie so when he did so it really was not a big deal. Conversely, we expect journalists to not only be objective, but even more importantly, we expect them to be completely honest in their reporting. As a brand, ask yourself, what does my audience expect from me and how can I make sure I deliver. Consider Zappos, a well-respected and trusted brand. One of their company mottos is to “exceed expectations” and they deliver on this promise.
If you want to see a list of the most trusted brands, consider checking out “The 120 Most Trusted Brands” and “Top Brands: Most Trustworthy” among other resources you can find on the web. Loyalty goes hand and hand with trust. Within marketing the “net promoter score” often used as a metric to measure brand loyalty. The net promoter score takes into consideration brand “promoters,” “passives,” and detractors and applies them to the model. You can learn about NPS here and here.
The reason why I say brand trust is so much more important today than in previous years are due to digital technologies and platforms. These technological advancements have strongly changed the perceptions and behaviors of our culture as they relate to the product and services they purchase. I used the Brian Williams and Bill Cosby examples of losing trust because of the widespread coverage. But remember, your failures that lead to losing brand trust can diminish your reputation and destroy you just like the Williams and Cosby scenarios have killed their reputation, persona, and brand. Have a strategy and plan to continually win and sustain trust from your audience.
Make It Happen!