The Critical Connection Between Time and Trust: Why It Matters for Your BrandWhy Trust Is Your Brand
5 Ways Your Brand Can Build Trust, and why the trust-time connection is critical to understand.
At a time when we’re surrounded by claims of fake news, revelations of corporate wrongdoings, and the continual need to fact-check information, our ability and need to trust are more critical than ever. If the process of gaining and retaining customers was challenging before, it is now a little more difficult. The good news is that building trust with your customers is an investment in your business’s success, with demonstrable ROI.
What is trust, and why is it important?
Trust is the confidence we put in another person when we have some sort of vulnerability, i.e., when we need assistance or have to make a choice, are about to part with money, or in situations where we must give up control to others.
Research shows that low-trust environments create stress for consumers, reduce the ability to make decisions effectively, and create divisiveness. These are hardly conditions that make selling a product or service easy. Again, good news – brands that create high-trust environments and customer experiences put people at ease and allow them to take action more quickly, and more confidently, whether investing in your company or recommending your product to friends.
While consumer trust has always been important for brands, it’s getting more important year after year. Whereas in the ‘50s, about 30% of a brand’s value came from intangibles like brand, market position, business systems, IP, etc., today it’s over 60%. Trust is the foundation of strong brands that build loyal followings. And it is the crux of the coming realignment of fundamentals that all businesses will have to grapple with as the pandemic forces consumers to make tough choices on who they want to spend their time and money with.
A changing world with changing needs
The way people think about and interact with brands has changed dramatically since the 1950s, and therefore drivers of brand value have changed. Not only do we have far more choices than ever before, but today as savvy consumers, we’re more aware of the mechanics of marketing. We have more access to the brand, picking up spoken and unspoken cues. If what brands say through “official” channels like advertising doesn’t match what we’re seeing through the actions of its employees and leaders, there’s a disconnect that creates distrust. As such, in general, we have a higher resistance to marketers invading our emotional space.
Technology has accelerated our pace of life too, forcing us to make decisions more quickly (see below on the trust-time connection). At the same time, living our lives through screens has increased our need for connections we can trust and moments where we can let our guard down. While brands have always connected with us emotionally, and people have considered themselves “Ford guys” or “Apple fans,” for instance, we base these connections today on more than product performance, a sense of individuality, or the image that’s projected onto the buyer for having chosen a brand. Today, we care deeply about how brands are able to enable access and belonging through community, how they can empower our personal potential, and the way they fill a void of belief. Because we’ve entered an era of belief or trust-based consumerism
This moment we’re living in leaves us wanting confidence. It’s a feeling spreading across the political, social, and business landscapes. It’s no wonder that Jim Chanos, a short-selling legend in stock trading circles, recently termed this moment “the golden age of fraud.”
Trust is more than just appreciating a product or service’s performance. People care about a firm’s conduct in the world, the behavior of its leaders (within the organization and outside), its position on societal events, the design of its product, service, and even retail space, and the entire brand experience. Again and again, the ability to generate trust comes back to the brand and consumers’ perception of it. Perceptions are created over time and through multiple touchpoints – a display ad cannot create brand perception, nor can one conversation with a sales clerk. Perception, like trust, is forward-looking, based on the totality of our experiences over time.
The Trust–Time Connection
Trust has several interesting intersections WC with time. First, trust exists asymmetrically over time. It might take days, months, or years to build trust in someone or a brand. But that trust can vanish in a few seconds. The reason is that in order to establish trust, we have to experience a consistent pattern of behavior. A single action that violates that pattern to a great enough degree can instantly destroy the trust.
Getting back to that same level of trust will take work. In fact, brands in controversy can begin losing trust in hours. Gaining it back, according to research, takes more than a year for 77% of consumers, with 23% saying more than five years! Businesses that lose trust through a poor customer experience, product disappointment, or less than stellar return on investment must quickly acknowledge what went wrong. Transparency and a sincere desire to improve it next time go a long way. Why? Because ultimately, people do not put trust in investment products or running shoes, they put trust in the people behind the things they invest in or buy.
The second intersection of trust and time is actually far more valuable to brands and is a lesser-known fact, so you might be hearing about it for the first time here. Trust removes decision friction and accelerates our ability to make important choices.
Let’s take an investor who is thinking about investing in a real estate deal. For the investor, the complex process of decision-making involves weighing factors specifically about the deal itself, like risk, reward, historical performance of this type of property, future probability of success, etc. But another set of calculations is happening – the investor’s perception and level of trust in the business or individual organizing the investment. That is the key determining factor in whether the investor will move forward. It’s much more difficult to convince people to do business with someone they don’t trust, even if the deal or product seems amazing.
Trust eases or eliminates the anxiety surrounding decisions, allowing you to make better judgments more quickly.
The Benefits of Trust:
ROB – Return on Brand
Building a business is incredibly difficult, with the cost and effort of customer acquisition one of the biggest line items. Therefore, keeping those customers you’ve worked so hard to acquire is much more efficient. Trust is a fundamental step in creating repeat business which paves the way for customers for life. Trust allows people to believe in your business, beyond your product or service – because the success of those things will ebb and flow, lose appeal, be the target of competition, etc. With those deep, mutually rewarding relationships, you’re able to increase the lifetime value of your customers and increase ROB, the return on your brand.
Amplify Your Spend
Marketing budgets are finite things; there’s a limit to the amount of advertising, promotion, and customer outreach you can do. Many businesses fail to leverage their army of loyal advocates who willingly spread the brand’s gospel. Trust is a requisite for people to vouch for your brand. And we all know word-of-mouth from people we know, and trust is the most affecting decision influencer, and it is working 24/7/365, even when you’re not running ads or spending on marketing.
Gain Valuable Insight
Another benefit of trust is its ability to ignite two-way conversations between brands and customers. Meaningful feedback helps you improve your product or service and, ultimately, your business. We’ve all had poor experiences as customers, but we don’t always offer feedback because we know 1) we’re never going to choose the business again 2) we just don’t care enough about their success or 3) we don’t think they have the capacity to receive our feedback and incorporate it. However, all these factors vanish once we’ve gotten to the level of a trusting relationship with that brand.
How to Build Trust
Trust can’t be conjured with smoke and mirrors. It comes through a decision process in the unconscious mind, part of the brain not open to introspection. Some things are out of your control – a customer’s risk tolerance, self-confidence, whether they view the world as a dangerous place, etc.— but as a brand or business leader, you can remove decision friction to bring customers to a state of trust quicker.
By demonstrating empathy, you can show genuine concern for your customer as a person who has justifiable concerns, which you recognize as reasonable but can alleviate through your actions. Your brand has to be seen as being human.
There’s a component to trust building that rests on the hierarchy of power in a relationship. A tyrannical government gives people no reason to believe that it will act in their best interest. You have to have an equal amount of skin in the game. In real estate investing, we refer to this as an alignment of interests. Offering a money-back satisfaction guarantee is an example of a way to show vulnerability.
By giving customers insight into the motivations behind your actions, you give them reasons to help you achieve them (assuming there’s an alignment of interests). If a brand reduces the price of a product without mentioning they’re clearing out soon-to-be-outdated merchandise, you lose trust.
Consistency & Reliability
Trust is forward-looking, based on the actions of the past. Build a track record of consistency, and you build trust. The other aspect of consistency is that people need to have similar feelings about every interaction with your brand; the advertising message has to match what salespeople say, and the product has to match the company’s mission.
People will form trusting relationships more easily with people or brands with shared characteristics or values. That’s why we ask our friends for recommendations and will put more credence in them than advertising messages. And it is easier for us to trust people and brands that we like, so creating positive experiences is also critical when trying to increase trust. Even a smile and eye contact go a long way in person-to-person interactions.
Your Most Valuable Asset
Trust is not nice to have; it’s everything. Trust will create life-long customer relationships, inspire a legion of fans to speak on your behalf, and help people forgive less-than-perfect product experiences or service mishaps. Trust is infinite, but there just isn’t enough going around at the moment.
The crisis of trust unfolding across the business landscape is an opportunity for smart brand managers and business owners to connect with customers at a deeper level by creating meaningful experiences and interactions.