Trust takes on a new dimension for brands

April 2009

Anyone with even a very basic understanding of branding will know that trust has always been a key component part in a successful brand’s DNA – i.e. if people trust you they’re more likely to buy your products or services. In fact this is true to the point that many brand owners have simply taken it for granted that their customers and potential customers trusted them – and often reasonably so, but that’s before the rules changed…

Well actually it’s less about ‘the rules’ changing and more about ‘the world’ changing, and nobody reading this will need reminding of the broad and unprecedented impact of the latter.

So suddenly the business world is awash with talk about ‘trusted brands’ and the significance of this not just to success, but simply staying afloat. But what’s really changed to push trust so far up the agenda and from a position of often assumed ownership to “we’ll die without it”?

The first thing has to do not with brands, but the business sectors they sit within. Take banking (you’ll already be thinking ‘bunch of sharks…’); we all grew up in our adult lives – at least those of us not actually working in any sort of financial services industry – trusting these people because, well, why wouldn’t you? They looked after our money, invested our money, lent us money when we didn’t have enough money, gave us advice when we wanted it and even made us the odd cup of tea. We generally liked them for all this and other than making us grumpy with the odd unauthorised overdraft charge, they could do little wrong in our eyes. Gosh how things have changed.

I’ve seen an ad numerous times on TV recently for a high street bank which shows a group of friendly staff all talking about how they’re going to help their cash-strapped customers with advice on savings. Then the bank opens for business and you see them in action: an old couple and it’s all about protecting their hard-earned savings, and then it’s a 2.4 kids family with the witty financial advisor telling one of the children to bring his one pound coins into the bank and open a savings account. Frankly, it’s all enough to make you throw-up and I don’t doubt most of the viewing public will feel the same.

So any bank, insurance company or other financial institution – even one with relatively small publicised losses – is going to find it hard right now to gain consumer trust. And just think about how many of these very businesses we all have relationships with.

But the collapse of trust in even the longest established business in the financial sector brings new opportunities for other players. Take two both in the news recently: The Post Office is considering becoming a ‘people’s bank’ and I guess, if it did, we could probably trust them? Can’t imagine the people running it would lend my money to a dodgy property developer in the Philippines with not a cat-in-hells chance of ever getting it back. That said, another rather important factor in establishing strong brand loyalty is customer service, and I already have visions of the ‘queue out the door and around the corner’ going around the block again. And of course with someone you finally get to at the serving counter believing they’re actually doing you a great favour when you ask to pay a cheque in. No, I can’t see it working, but it won’t be because of a fundamental lack of trust.

Tesco is another matter though and has also announced plans to offer bank accounts and mortgages. Not sure about that? Well Tesco was recently voted the most trusted food retailer in the UK and, even if you don’t like them or even shop with them, you have to admit that they don’t do much wrong. Personally, I’d trust them and I’ll predict now that their venture will be a success.

But I’ve digressed a little so back to the reasons why trust has become so important in our decision making process on which brands we spend our money with. Next up: considered consumption.

Now if you’re job is in marketing, then you’ll no doubt already know what considered consumption is all about. If you’re not, then here’s a quick synopsis: considered consumption is a term which has emerged in the new economy and is about consumers being far more cautious around the products and brands they buy. The reasons are largely:

  • Overt and flagrant demonstrations of wealth – e.g. buying a new Porsche Cayenne just to “show it off on the drive and take the kids to school” – is increasingly seen as vulgar (in our previous ‘conspicuous consumption’ society such a demonstration would have won you social points – at least certainly in Essex and Cheshire it would have…)
  • Aside from the above where avoiding relatively expensive purchases might just be by choice, for many it simply can’t happen because they just don’t have the money anymore

And the big drivers for the above are of course the coming together of the global downturn and huge increase in awareness and understanding of global warming and its impact on our lives.

So bottom line: even if you’ve got the money to keep on spending on lavish things you don’t really need, it isn’t any longer big or clever to do so.

Given all this, it seems pretty obvious that consumers will favour brands they can trust: Brands which do just what they say they’ll do and set their stall out in simple and believable terms. They’ll demonstrate true provenance for their brand and not just some artificial and superficial nonsense that we can all see through. At a product level it won’t just mean things we need rather than want – luxury will still figure – but we will do it in a ‘considered’ way. So one of them not two. One very good one which will last. One very good one which will last but isn’t too flashy. One very good one which will last, isn’t too flashy and from a brand we can trust. (And brand owners can forget any ideas about trying to ‘manufacture’ trust – that will soon be seen straight through and the world alerted by social networking sites.)

The impact of all of this will be very significant and long lasting, because when the economy does pick up and we’ve got money to spend again, the other underlying issue of a planet on countdown to self-destruction will still remain. This will increasingly manifest itself in a social change where ‘more’ is no longer socially acceptable to most.

So long live considered consumption and the trusted brands which thrive in a changed world.

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