The Art of Sustaining Brand Trust
By Daud de' Ferrara, Founder, de' Ferrara & Co.
It's widely understood that brands have only a few seconds before customers lose or gain interest in their narrative—or, worst case scenario, divert their attention away from the brand indefinitely. This bitter but helpful truth has remained unchanged for decades, and the sheer amount of competitive noise within the marketplace makes it increasingly more imperative for brands to hook customers and reel in interest at every opportunity that presents itself. On the surface, it may seem as though competition and market noise are impediments to brand growth and relevance, but the reality is that these factors should be embraced in order to solidify a brand's stature in its respective industry. By tapping into human psychology and understanding the art of client-to-brand relationships, brands can do just that…and more.
There are two aspects to brand trust: establishing the trust and managing it. Brands looking for ways to establish trust, loyalty and recognition with their target audience must look no further than the already proven strategies that enable brand trust to thrive, such as investment in social platforms, providing reliable products or services, and presenting first-rate customer service. The mediums that elicit brand trust—such as social channels and advertising—should be used to deliver a compelling message, and this is equally as important as selecting the mediums that fit the brand's purpose. For instance, an upcoming player in the automotive industry should utilize social media, accessibility and reliability to build brand trust and preference. There is no groundbreaking advice or secret there, but only by delivering a unique experience with the available tools will the brand allow itself to stand out.
But what is it about social, specifically, that piques customer interest? If we look to science for answers, we'll find that social connection is predominantly responsible for brand trust. These insights will help us recognize how trust is cultivated and how it builds influence.
Triggering Trust in the Mind
In a series of observations by Fast Company contributor Ruslan Kogan, he and many others were curious about why crowds gathered around salesman cleaning carpets at shopping centers and why people are more inclined to visit a crowded restaurant over a relatively barren one. The answer that they found to be true was that social proof was in play, and it directly influenced the subconscious decisions that people made. In many cases, social proof tells us that a place must be safe to buy from due to how many people are there and that the deals must be attractive because of the number of people that are buying. As he states, "Social proof is the most efficient way to navigate the complexity of modern day life." This is highly beneficial to offline brands as word of mouth can replace the sharing of content online, but word of mouth accompanied by an online presence is always the best option. Online brands can substitute this phenomenon of crowd gathering by acquiring a large social following or running a global contest. Essentially, people enjoy being involved and are subconsciously influenced by crowds or large groups.
Additionally, researchers have found that the hormone oxytocin has a direct impact on consumer trust and relations due to how heavily it regulates social interaction. "Drawing upon neurobiological research in the domains of social cognition and behavior, the hypothalamic peptide oxytocin (OXT) has been identified as a key molecule that mediates social motivation and approach, fear conditioning and extinction, social learning and attachment, pair-bond formation, parental care, and interpersonal trust." Customers that feel as though they're part of a brand community rather than being passive consumers will typically feel some form of neurological reward. In the case of brands building a thriving community, customers feel that they're being socially stimulated and are more incentivized to continue engaging. Furthermore, participants in these studies showed an increase in oxytocin when brands responded or conversed with them, rendering the perceived value of the brand to be higher in the participant's mind.
A few immediate tactics that brands can deploy in order to promote social stimuli are:
- Providing bursts of rewards to people on a regular basis—These rewards should be in response to the behaviors that the brand wants to reinforce, such as engagement or purchases.
- Making customers feel accomplished—Add distinctive touches, such as sounds or visuals, where possible (e.g., slot machines in casinos accomplish this by rewarding "correct" behaviors with flashing lights).
- Catalyze bonding with personal interactions—Encouraging representatives to connect and converse with customers makes them feel appreciated, just as they should be.
"The neurobiological underpinnings of charitable donating tested whether oxytocin administration affects the amount of money participants are willing to donate to a charity as oxytocin has been found to enhance emotional empathy for other individuals’ distress.” The research conducted in this test revealed that oxytocin administration increased charitable donations and the participant's willingness to transact.
Managing Trust With Customers and Advocates
In order to gain trust in a personal relationship, the mutual exchange of listening—truly listening—and responding is what forms the bedrock of the developing bond. In other words, quality conversation is key. This reciprocity starts the relationship on a positive note, and what matters next is that both parties continue to nurture it. This is what evokes trust, and it's the foundation of client-to-brand relationships, too. Professors of Marketing Clara Agustin and Jagdip Singh define trust as “a consumer's confident beliefs that he or she can rely on the seller to deliver promised services, whereas a relational value can be defined as consumer's perceptions of the benefits enjoyed versus the cost incurred in the maintenance of an ongoing exchange relationship. The trust in the purchased brand may be viewed as leverage of its credibility, which in return may reinforce the consumers' repeat buying behavior. The domain of trust in this study is a desired benefit in relational exchanges."1
In line with this, difficulties that some people may face in everyday conversations are also present in brand engagements—such as a loss of words or anxiousness—which is why a strategy revolving around humor is so efficient at breaking the ice. Old Spice's marketing efforts and the social strategy used by Wendy's are competent examples of a humor-based strategy. The purpose of brand strategy, as well as social tactics, is not to stir controversy, though some brands may take this route. They're intended to beckon potential advocates and create marketplace noise.
Brands can foster trust and a sense of connection with their audience by:
- Nurturing consumer relationships—Akin to human relationships, customer-to-brand relationships develop over time; it's the small, consistent contributions to the relationship that allow it to flourish and ultimately blossom.
- Maintaining social groups—Share the brand's values so that customers can continuously relate and ensure that they feel a sense of belonging by planning in-person meetups or by creating an online forum.
The goal for brands worldwide is to fulfil a purpose that's attractive to their target audience. The studies conducted by researchers are not intended to be manipulative or cross an ethical line—their intention is to explain why people act the way they do. With both the scientific reasoning available to explain what sparks brand trust and the art of managing it through positive brand behaviors, brands can easily identify the strategies and tactics needed in order to build and nurture trust with their customers.
1 Agustin Clara and Singh Jagdip, (2005). Curvilinear effects of consumer loyalty determinants in relational exchanges, Journal of Marketing Research, Xlll.
Daud de' Ferrara is the founder of de' Ferrara & Co., a brand design and consulting agency that helps clients build nimble brands that prosper in today's dynamic world.