The field of marketing has been undergoing rapid changes due to evolving consumer demands pertaining to crucial perceptions of brand trust. According to an Edelman report, 67% of consumers say they must trust a brand before they’ll continue buying its products or services. How a brand connects with its consumers and builds long-term loyalty is no longer just a matter of providing an exceptional product or service experience. For a brand to grow and maintain a positive presence in today’s world, it must navigate through an ever-changing sociopolitical climate characterized in large part by a growing focus on more emotionally rooted social issues. Essentially, this means that brands must instill confidence in their consumers that they are not only able to deliver quality, but deliver it in a responsible manner.
Brand trust can be simply defined as a consumer’s belief about a brand’s ability and intention to responsibly deliver value. It is the antecedent to brand loyalty; in order to have loyal consumers, you must develop trust. Consumers are now paying closer attention to the characteristics of a brand itself in forming their beliefs. How consumers form these beliefs that impact their level of trust in a brand is not entirely logical, rather it is psychological and based on personal experiences. For example, a consumer may not know exactly how much a particular company cares about certain social issues, however they will form their beliefs based on the actions carried out by the company over time. Consumers want to know the underlying intentions behind brand efforts as it helps them determine whether they have shared values.
A real-world example of this notion in practice is the recent controversy surrounding Bud Light’s campaign featuring a popular transgender social media influencer. Rumors that the brand was selling a can with this influencer’s image spread widely and angered the brand's core consumers who engaged in a boycott of Bud Light, lowering the brand’s sales for several months.
There are numerous elements a brand can implement when building trust with consumers. First and foremost, they must offer a quality product, and moreover, possess quality service by attending to consumers’ needs, delivering on promises, and demonstrating ample knowledge and expertise in the category. Brands may also exercise transparency to further build trust with consumers—taking actions that demonstrate internal transparency can build positive rapport with consumers, making them feel more valued and invested. A brand may also explore the idea of aligned incentives— demonstrating that the relationship between consumers and the brand is mutually beneficial, and that the brand is acting in good faith. A simple example of this would be a waiter at a restaurant recommending a less expensive dish that he personally enjoys when asked for a recommendation. By offering a more affordable meal instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to generate more revenue by offering an expensive one when given the chance, the waiter demonstrates good faith, promoting the belief that he cares about and prioritizes the diner’s experience.
As with people, a brand’s personality is key to forming connections with consumers that inspire trust. But establishing a brand personality needs to strategically align with the brand’s values and actions. Misalignment between actions and personality may increase consumer defensiveness, undermining the trust that brands are looking to create. For example, brands built on delivering fun and excitement, like an energy drink brand, have more latitude to use cheeky, informal language in its messaging than a brand built on a reputation of unimpeachable quality, like a luxury automotive brand. Using sponsorships, endorsements, and partnerships in a way that aligns with the brand’s values can help build trust with new groups of consumers. For example, Michael Jordan has served as a celebrity endorser for Nike Basketball since 1984, giving credibility and prestige to the then small brand which has since become a well-established athletic wear brand. This partnership allowed Nike to build considerable consumer trust with first basketball fans and athletes, and then gradually over time other sports fans and athletes in general. Engaging with these core demographics allowed the brand to form the basis from which to expand into multiple areas, such as casual wear.
Trust is also shaped by cues that come from our experiences with the brand. For example, if something is too easy consumers may not trust it. Research shows that making a sign-up process too easy can actually backfire. When researching ways to encourage more workers to sign up with a meal delivery service, the YCCI team found that adding friction to the process shaped users’ beliefs about the company’s credibility. By simply adding more information about the strict vetting process, the team saw a significant increase in intent to sign up to deliver for this service. Trust is rooted in experiences, and experiences are distributed across time. So as the length of the relationship increases, so do the number of experiences that will influence the level of brand trust. This is especially true in industries such as financial services, that are high stakes for consumers and are rooted in decades-long relationships with trusted providers. For banks, establishing trust is paramount in the early stages of a consumer relationship in order to earn long-term loyalty in a consumer’s later, more profitable life-stages.
Our perceptions of a brand, including its values and personality, shape our assessment of its communications, products, and overall experience. These evaluations, in turn, influence our trust in the brand. While experiences impact trust, the level of trust also affects our experiences. Therefore, changing brand trust through experience must be achieved over time, not through a single effort.