An Erosion of Trust Offers Much to Be Lost—and Sometimes Gained—by Brands

Without it, why would consumers be attracted to a product or service?

A woman leads the way with a yellow flag in her hand; behind her is a mob of people in suits following her
Creating trust in a brand's products or services is crucial for growing a consumer base.
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The next few minutes you spend reading this article will be the most inspiring and productive use of your time today. Trust me.

Ah, trust. The belief that someone or something is reliable. It’s an inherently risky business because there’s no guarantee people or products will follow through as promised. Trust requires vulnerability, which requires belief.

And therein lies the challenge, because there’s perhaps never been a bigger challenge to our willingness to suspend disbelief. Trust is being tested on all fronts: between governments and those they govern, between businesses and their customers, between tech platforms and users and even between friends and family members.

The very concept of objective truth is under daily attack around the world. Fake news is proliferating. Doctored photos and videos cause us to question our own eyes and dismiss those things that make us uncomfortable. Tech platforms are invading our privacy and abusing our data. Hackers are stealing our identities.

We no longer even trust the glossy views of life offered by friends and family on our social feeds. Was my cousin’s trip to a crowded theme park during a heat wave with three kids under 10 really as happy and carefree as it was portrayed on her husband’s Instagram feed? Because she admitted on the phone that it was “a nightmare.”

There is an opportunity for brands to act as leaders in halting the erosion of trust and maybe even rebuilding it.

Everything I’ve written so far is absolutely true. Unless it’s not. Trust me. Or don’t. There’s a lot at stake either way.

Trust is a necessary cornerstone of our lives. We rely on trust for safety of our health, our families, the food we eat. It literally holds societies together.

Brands have much to lose—and gain—as trust erodes. The best definition of a brand has always been that it’s a promise. But what good is a promise that no one believes? According to a recent Gallup poll, only one in three Americans trust big businesses.

That can manifest itself in many ways as customers avoid technology they fear may be snooping on them, become unwilling to share personal information, abandon online shopping carts and abandon loyalty in the search for brands whose actions match their words.

In this challenge there is, of course, opportunity as brands use actions, insights and storytelling to deliver relevant, personalized experiences and content. Those brands that offer authentic experiences and match actions and words will be the ones most likely to succeed.

Amid a seemingly never-ending drip of negative news—an Edelman survey that says we’re “divided by trust,” calls to regulate Facebook, a college admissions cheating scandal—there are some pinpricks of light for brands and businesses.

Three-quarters of people trust CEOs more than the government to take action on issues such as personal data protection, equal pay, discrimination, harassment, fake news and the environment, according to Edelman. That shows an opportunity for businesses—and brands—to rise to the occasion.

Brand trust is crucial and directly connected to purchase decisions, loyalty and advocacy. Consumers have more options and can make more noise than ever. If my good friend tweets about a terrible experience with an airline or restaurant chain, how does that impact my trust in that brand to deliver on its promise?

Building and nurturing trust needs to be a top priority for every marketer. That happens when brand actions match marketing messages. It happens when brands deliver on quality and enable consistent connected experiences. It happens when they protect our data and respect our privacy.

Individual brand actions are a good start (think CVS and its Beauty Mark promise to present images that haven’t been digitally altered) as are industry initiatives such as Privacy for America, which will seek to pass a national law to strengthen privacy protections.

The crisis in trust won’t end by brands’ efforts alone. But there is an opportunity for brands to act as leaders in halting the erosion of trust and maybe even rebuilding it. That would be a good thing. Trust me.

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