Trust Is More Than Just a Feeling: The Four Components of the Trust Dynamic
Trust can be a difficult concept for us to wrap our heads around. And for some people, it can be hard to talk about. We think it’s this mysterious thing which has great control over us, but yet we have little control over it. Like gravity. Except, we do have more control over trust than we think.
While you can’t force someone to trust you if you’re not trustworthy, you can change your behavior to become more trustable.
But to increase it, we have to understand it a little better and the components that go into it. At Trust Deep Branding, we use a framework we call the Trust Dynamic, which has four components.
So let’s define trust, the four factors that go into being trustworthy, and how people and brands can generate true trustworthiness.
Is trust an emotion? A limited resource? A powerful force of nature?
Yes, trust is definitely an emotion that increases or decreases based on how we feel about a person or a situation. It’s not a limited resource. It can be created, destroyed, and rebuilt again and again. And since it can compel us to make life-changing decisions in an instant, it is a powerful force. And it’s also the most valuable asset a brand can have.
The four elements of the Trust Dynamic cover two main areas of our lives – our character and our competency. It’s a combination of who we are and our actions.
These four factors are credibility, our track record, empathy, and our alignment of interests with other people.
Credibility includes our abilities, skills, talent, and knowledge – the qualities that inspire confidence that help us accomplish a job that someone needs us to do. Credibility also includes our integrity, which is a measure of how closely our actions align with our stated values.
Track Record is the one factor of the Trust Dynamic that takes time to establish, it’s our consistent performance over a long period of time. Track record is reliability that inspires confidence that future outcomes will be congruent with past outcomes.
Empathy, the third factor, is your ability to understand other peoples’ realities and appreciate their challenges. It’s your humanness.
The last factor in the Trust Dynamic is your alignment of interests with whomever you try to develop trust. It’s a measure of how well your goals and values match up with the other person’s.
These four factors are necessary for trustworthiness and vary in different proportions depending on the situation and the people involved. In buying a car, for instance, I’m very interested in knowing the automaker’s track record of reliability. But when dealing with the salesperson, I want to know if her interests are aligned with mine. Is she more interested in meeting a sales quota than selling me a car that fits my needs? And when my car needs repairs, is the service technician credible? Does he have the knowledge and ability to change my brakes?
Do you know someone who bends the truth occasionally? How about someone who lacks critical knowledge or the skill to do their job? While the first question seems to address honesty, and the second one deals with performance, both are components of your credibility.
Credibility can be strengthened over time, but I believe its real value is in generating a positive first impression since it can be created in an instant, even from your brand’s first interaction with a potential customer. Credibility, in the absence of someone knowing your track record, allows people to give you the benefit of the doubt. It helps potential customers overcome decision friction – an imperceptible hesitation that might hold people back from committing to you.
Credibility blends our integrity and our capabilities. We sometimes think that integrity is our ability to keep our word. I have an issue with the concept of making a promise, but that’s a subject for another time. Keeping our word is just a piece of what integrity is all about. The real measure of integrity is how closely aligned our values are with our actions. Do I act in a way according to what I believe is right? If a brand says it believes in treating all people equally but pays female employees less than it pays male employees, is equality a credible value for that brand?
Credibility also includes our abilities, skills, talent, and knowledge – the tools that help us get results. They are the qualities that inspire confidence that we will be able to accomplish a job that someone needs us to do.
When our credibility is on display, it’s influencing whether people see us as more or less trustworthy. And each interaction is an opportunity to form a strand of trust. Bring enough of these strands together, and they add up to something tangible, a strong connection capable of bringing people closer to us. If the strands are few or weak, people will stay at a distance from us, either emotionally or professionally, meaning they are less likely to want to do business with us.
How can a brand become more credible to others? I suggest following two paths to start. One, know your destination, and two, know what you’re really good at.
When you know your end goal, you’re able to ensure every action, every decision is a step in the right direction. And this cohesiveness builds those positive first impressions that create credibility. It includes the messaging and design of your website and how you train employees so that they can speak with authority and act skillfully, always keeping your brand’s destination in mind.
And you have to know the outcomes you, your product, and your service are really good at delivering. This allows you to focus and excel on those outcomes, and you don’t have to try to be something you’re not – which kills credibility.
So how can individuals like me and you become more credible? Here are a few that build instant credibility. Know your stuff and be able to explain it so people can understand the details. Be an authority on the subject matter you’re talking about.
Another thing you can do is to keep your commitments and follow through. That builds those stands of credibility, which turn into trustworthiness.
What else? Tell the whole truth. Have you ever heard someone justify their less-than-forthcoming explanation by saying, “Well… it’s technically accurate”? That’s a credibility killer because some facts or details have intentionally been left out.
Be more precise. Some people speak in exaggerated terms without intending to deceive, but how do I know when they really mean what they are saying if everything sounds hyperbolic?
And if you want to be more credible to others tomorrow, start by being more credible to yourself today. Make and keep commitments to yourself both in personal and business situations.
Do you have a friend or colleague who says they’re going to do things for themselves but fail to follow through? How can you trust them to do anything for someone else? By creating a pattern of commitment-keeping, we build our trustworthiness in ourselves and others.
Credibility is the sum of our abilities and our values. And while we go to school to learn knowledge and practice our business skills every day, we don’t often talk about how we set our own core values. If you want to establish your business’s core values, start with your mission. You can download a mission statement builder at our website – see the link in the show notes below.
Do you have a friend you can rely on without fail, someone who always comes through for you? That person has an established track record, a critical component of trustworthiness. A solid track record can’t be created through one or two events but instead requires a pattern of repeatable outcomes.
This makes the track record different from the other three components of the Trust Dynamic – credibility, empathy, and alignment of interest.
Track record is an important part of being trustworthy because trust is hope for a future outcome based on events of the past. It sounds obvious, but you may wonder, what are the mechanics that allow us to see a person or brand as reliable?
Every decision we make is a complex process requiring us to weigh a number of variables – each of those creating a micro-question in our mind. The greater the risk or reward, the more involved the process is and the greater the number of micro-decisions we must make.
But our brains are always looking for more efficient ways to operate and excel at forming patterns. Track record is a pattern of outcomes that eliminates our brains’ need to make the same time-consuming, energy-intensive decision over and over again.
For brands, a track record forms a reputation among their customers, spreading out into the world. The value of your reputation is that new customers don’t have to take your word for your claims, your reputation speaks for you, and it can be an incredibly effective reason to believe in your brand. Your words can’t create a good reputation, only your actions can. This is how track record differs from credibility, which your words do influence.
Remember, a component of credibility comes from knowledge on a topic – your brand’s ability to appear credible which gives you the benefit of the doubt for people who have never tried your product or service before.
Reputation avoids the need for people to give you the benefit of the doubt. This is important because not all consumers make decisions the same way, and some people are more wary of trying new brands.
Let’s talk about how you can establish a track record if you’re a new business. If you’ve done absolutely zero work in the industry that you’re working in now, you don’t have a track record. Sorry, but it’s that simple. But even if that’s the case, I bet some people know you personally and professionally who are willing to speak on your behalf. For potential customers to find you trustworthy, they will weigh two types of information – your capabilities and your character. In the absence of capabilities, you’ll have to rely on your character.
Remember, the Trust Dynamic has four components – track record, credibility, alignment of interests, and empathy. Demonstrating genuine empathy goes a long way in developing a strong character that people can relate to and find trustworthy.
Think about someone who you can relate well to. Is this someone you can be open with? Someone who can recognize the significance of the challenges you face? Do you trust that person? Why?
It’s likely because that person displays empathy, and empathy moves us closer together. That connection builds a firm foundation where trust can blossom.
There are two types of empathy, emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy is when we are able to feel the same emotions others are going through. Cognitive empathy is when we are able to understand their perspective. Both types are important for businesses to show to their customers, but we’re going to focus on cognitive empathy here.
But first, let’s ground ourselves… Do you think a business can have empathy? And if so, should we be talking about it in a conversation about branding and trust? The answer to both is absolute YES. While empathy might seem like a soft skill or attribute, studies show that it is the most significant factor in developing personal trust. We call empathy the human factor – it’s your brand’s ability to be relatable.
Empathy is your ability to understand someone else’s reality and the challenges they face. It’s your business’s genuine care for its customers and employees. Don’t dismiss empathy. It’s more than nice to have. It’s essential for every business today, especially as our lives become more challenging.
In its most basic definition, empathy is respect at a human level. It’s a business’s ability to see people not just as customers or part of a target demographic but as individuals with real needs. And here’s the value of practicing empathy – when you understand the real needs of people, you’re actually able to solve them in ways that still work for you.
For instance, if research shows that many of your customers are especially price-conscious, you could lower your pricing. But, if you dig deeper to diagnose the reasons driving their concern on price, you might instead realize that they aren’t just concerned about the cost but the product’s value. The solution, then, isn’t to lower the price but to offer messaging that addresses value. You might also offer a warranty or provide testimonials from customers with the same concerns but have found lasting value in your product or service.
Empathy moves businesses and their customers closer and fuels deeper connections. Communicating that you see their concern through our words is good, but empathy is much more effective when it comes through in our actions.
Empathetic actions can come across in product development, how you deliver your service, how employees interact with each other and customers, and how you communicate.
Empathy is absolutely something brands can develop more of. Here are a few ways:
Be more curious about your customers. And I’m going to take a stand here against creating customer personas – personas often fail to address the reasons people seek out brands to help solve their challenges. Instead, use the Jobs to be Done framework. It’s a process where you determine what customers really need from you. For a free jobs-to-be-done template download, look in the video description.
Listen to what your customers are saying directly to you and out in the world. Then connect with them, either one-on-one as a service provider or through your marketing channels. Here, share information about yourself or your brand that helps show your humanity. As consumers, we might buy products or services, but we connect and identify strongly with other people. No matter what you sell, there are people behind it.
Next, find the common values that you and your customers share. Is it an emphasis on family? Is it a passion for handcrafted quality? A commitment to higher levels of performance? Shared values are what help brands develop meaning for people beyond a product or service. And that creates trust, which leads to long-term loyalty.
Alignment of Interests
Why do we choose to spend our time, energy, and money with some people but not others? Why do some people’s actions repel us? Because in those interactions, there is a lack of alignment – you and they don’t want the same thing out of that situation. It could be someone who talks about themselves but doesn’t want to hear about you. Or a coworker who feels only their ideas or contributions matter. Or it could be a business that focuses on meeting its needs before meeting yours.
Alignment of interests is an important piece of the Trust Dynamic, along with credibility, track record, and empathy.
Alignment of interests is built beyond just being in agreement with others, it involves our intent and our motivation. You may want the same outcome as someone else, but your motivation may be completely different. A company might reduce the price of a product and say it’s interested in saving customers money during these uncertain times. But what if the motivation for the price reduction is simply to move out old inventory before the new and improved widget is available?
You might say that’s not a big deal, brands do that all the time. You’re right; they do. And it destroys trust because when we see the new widget come out the week after we bought the old one, we realize that the brand has a hidden agenda. Raise your hand if you like hidden agendas.
Alignment of interests doesn’t mean you have to give your product away for free if that’s what people want. It’s about both parties having the same understanding of what’s at stake and being committed to working toward the same end. It’s an unspoken dynamic, but that’s the area we, as a branding agency, work in. The areas that other agencies don’t know how to leverage.
Want to know the true value of alignment of interests? It has nothing to do with the transactions between your business and your customers. It’s about giving your business or brand deep, lasting meaning to people. Here’s how it works. When we understand that people share the same values as us, we’re able to create deep connections with them. We will favor them, forgive their mistakes, and speak highly about them to others – even if parts of their personality don’t align with ours. This is the basis of loyalty.
And when businesses and brands are able to represent more than just a product or service, they create massive loyalty. Starbucks is not just a cup of coffee. A Harley is not just transportation. Disney doesn’t just create entertainment. These brands have true meaning to their customers because they stand for things people can believe in. Their values align with those of the brands.
But what if you don’t have meaning for your customers? What if they just see you as a product? In that case, you risk losing your customers to other choices that are either cheaper, better, or easier to get. And no matter who you are or what you do, there is always someone cheaper, better, or quicker.
So how do you create loyalty? It starts by identifying your core values. If you haven’t done that as a business, the easiest way is to create a mission statement and understand the true jobs that your customers need you to do for them. You can find links to downloadable resources in the video description below. These two exercises will begin to uncover what you stand for and what you want to deliver. And they can help you become more trustworthy.
Trust is the most valuable thing your business can offer customers, but you can’t ask people to trust you. You have to become genuinely trustworthy through your actions and how you represent yourself.