What exactly IS brand trust and how do we measure it?
Brand trust is measured in many ways, sometimes we use a metric like a net promoter score. Sometimes the value of a brand is incorporated into EBITA, and we infer higher brand-value equals trust.
But really, what IS brand trust? In a global environment where, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in institutions and media is at an all-time low, it’s more important than ever for brands of all sizes to keep ahead of the trust curve.
Neuroscientists have been researching the effects of our brains on trust with interesting results. Neuroscientists have been researching the effects of our brains on trust with interesting results. In the book Brand Seduction-How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands, Daryl Weber reveals how the unconscious mind is constantly picking up cues from our environment, including cues from brands, most of us don’t even realize our brain is doing this monitoring on our behalf. What this means though, is that every single subtle brand cue sends a message.
So how should we interpret trust in everyday execution and metrics analysis?
THE BRAIN ON FEAR
Think about the last time something you saw on social media enraged you. Chance are, just reliving that moment has your blood pressure spiking. “Flight or fight” response, makes our brain neurons fire like mad. This, in turn, creates an emotional response. In contrast, our brain on trust is relaxed, open, I compare this state to homeostasis in the body. It’s the place our brain WANTS to be, but it’s also the place where triggers are not as emotional.
What this means is that emotional responses may NOT be positive for a brand trust. Take, for example, Facebook reactions. Content that triggers the most “viral” response is often content that creates anger, fear or other negative sentiments. But social media platforms (and their algorithms) aren’t yet evolved enough to understand that highly emotional reactions may not mean a piece of content is valuable for trust.The most viral content may do nothing to enhance trust. This does not mean that good never goes viral, but it DOES mean that computers don’t yet really grasp the difference, even if humans (subconsciously) do. But, humans are imperfect, and we’re often not even aware of our own reactions to messages.
This is to say, that in trust building, messages or ads that are viewed, but without huge emotional responses may actually be better for building trust. If you track reactions or sentiment on social, it might be disappointing at times to see that trust messages or messages built with trust intentions don’t get a lot of “lift.” But I would argue, that is exactly what you want from trust messaging.
LOW RESPONSE BUT MORE OF IT?
Imagine you’re making a special chocolate cake.
You create the first layer and ad the frosting.
It’s a good cake. It will taste good.
But it isn’t very impactful. So you add another layer. And another.
And before you know it, you have this impactful cake with layers of goodness inside. And when you finally EAT the cake, you enjoy it, even more, knowing there are multiple layers of goodness. Trust is like that. The first layer of trust is good. It’s acceptable. But multiple layers of trust are better. Multiple layers of trust take time. The emotional response to trust is not “at the moment,” trust building is a front-loaded proposition. The payoff comes at the end. The payoff comes when the brand’s experience matches the anticipated trust. The brain remembers THAT satisfaction. Perhaps more subtly than an outraged response. But the brain DOES remember it at buying time. When you ate your beautiful chocolate cake, you enjoyed it. The next time you make a cake you’re more likely to make a chocolate cake over say, vanilla. This is how brand trust works.
The thing is, you need to reinforce that positive experience and positive response over and over. The subtle cues build up over time. But they can be replaced by constantly good experiences of vanilla cake too – because, you know, vanilla is equally yummy. Consistency is the key.
Have you ever known a brand one way than seen an ad that completely shifts the message? It’s jarring. Just today I was watching a conversation about a brand whose messaging, packing, product and ads were all luxury-level classy. Then they ran an ad showing a woman in panties with a pretty vulgar statement written on the panties. WOW! It got the attention of everyone, but overwhelmingly, their current customers were outraged, they thought they “knew” the brand, in some cases, people actually expressed betrayal. These customers related to what they thought the brand was, a luxury-level classy product. The brand’s trust has been shattered in the eyes of some. This particular ad may get high virality, but will the sentiment be overwhelmingly positive? And even it works, with what I call “a sugar spike” of sales, will those new customers be as loyal as the old ones? Will the old ones stick around?
Consistency is key. In branding trust, slow and steady wins the race. Look for consistently growing results, not “sugar spikes.” Sugar spikes mean you’re appealing to a specific audience over a short period of time, but not building any loyalty. That’s an even more expensive proposition than branding.
HOW DOES THE BRAIN BUILD TRUST?
We’re conditioned to trust our tribes. Our brains attribute trust to brands who our tribe use. That’s why influencer marketing and customer reviews are so powerful. The person doesn’t even have to comment about using the product, they simply have to be seen using it.
One of the more brilliant examples of this is Jennifer Aniston’s water. This campaign works for two reasons: I KNOW Jennifer Aniston’s face already AND it’s consistent. If you read any of the “celebrity” publications at all, you have seen Jennifer Aniston leaving the gym, getting out of her car or shopping with a bottle of water in her hand. SmartWater (and it’s parent company Coca-Cola) tapped into the inherent trust that Jennifer Aniston brings and then they gave her enough water to last a lifetime. Yes, Jennifer Aniston also appears in ads for this water, but the most memorable (to me, at least) are the pictures of her going throughout her daily life using the water. Every single time I open a magazine and there is a picture of Jennifer Aniston going about her daily life, she has SmartWater. This has been going on since 2015. Every single time I’m at the airport, I grab SmartWater, and I’m not even a particularly huge fan of hers, but somewhere in my brain I say “if it’s good enough for Jennifer Aniston, it’s good enough for me.” It’s not a conscious thought – it’s the brain operating and choosing based on those many layers. My hand just reaches for SmartWater, I don’t even really think about it. That’s what I mean by trust being a front-loaded proposition.
Zappos is another great example of brand trust. When Tony Hsieh started Zappos, he didn’t double down on ads, he doubled down on customer service. When the company was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion, 75% of its customers were returning customers.
BRAND ACTIONS OUTWEIGH ALL OTHER MESSAGES
If your water brand hires Jennifer Aniston and does all the same things as SmartWater did, but if it’s revealed that the water isn’t what it says it is, none of this will matter. Experience trumps all in trust. Worse, trust takes a long time to build, but it’s easily shattered. If you’re going to invest in trust, you must invest in an authentic way.
Above when I mentioned the jarring change of tone from classy to trashy, this also indicates that the brand isn’t clear on who it is and creates questions about the brand. “What other brand values are negotiable?” asks the brain. If this brand has built up trust with its existing customers, those customers now (even if subconsciously) question that trust.
An example of brand trust that does work is Red Bull. They’ve built their entire brand around adrenaline-fueled messaging. They went so far as to sponsor Felix Baumgartner when he jumped from space in 2012. While this kind of stunt is absolutely designed to attract your attention, it’s also building brand trust – Red Bull’s customers know exactly what Red Bull stands for and they love it. Brand trust doesn’t have to be boring.
IS BRAND TRUST WORTH THE INVESTMENT?
I suppose that depends on whether you’re in it for the long haul or not. Brand trust makes it easier for your customer to buy, creates triggers at the exact buying moment and that’s huge. But what else? Brand trust actually adds value to your company, makes it easier to attract talent and decreases costs because the product is easier for salespeople to sell. In the long run, brand trust saves money by also retaining customers.
In the end, brand trust is accessible to businesses of all sizes, but it takes commitment and consistency and yes, authenticity. You don’t need to be the biggest player on the block, just the most trusted.
In a world where trust in organizations is diminishing, building trust can be your most valuable asset – and because suspicion is so high for known brands, smaller niche brands who really do what they say and are consistent about it, have lots of room to develop that trust.
So what can you expect when you invest in brand trust? You might not see “sugar spikes,” and huge social media shares, instead you should see brand value reflected by consistent sales, repeat customers and even a stronger valuation that you’d have without it.
If you’re ready to invest in your brand, we are here to help you develop and execute your vision with aggressive elegance, contact us today.