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Brand Trust-Leverage it or Lose it

A brand is more than a product, a logo or an identity - it is a promise, and key to this promise is the most powerful word in branding today: TRUST. by Diane Perlman, Marketing and Branding Consultant

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In the huge online marketplace of 450 million people, building and nurturing trust has never been more important.

Since the Internet began rising in popularity as a commercial vehicle, trust in the concept of e-Business and of transacting online has been key. As some consumer fears have been allayed, the focus of trust has begun to shift from the process of transacting online to the actual brand itself.

The issue affects newer online brands and existing offline brands alike. Interestingly, well-known and trusted offline brands are generally considered more trustworthy than well-known online brands.

In either case, for customers who are often separated by great distances electronically from the brand they are buying, trust is key to reducing perceived risk.

As such, the Web adds a new layer of complexity to managing and engendering brand trust. In traditional branding, trust is closely tied to how well a brand delivers on a promise. On the Web, trust also encompasses privacy, security, responsiveness, and speed, among other elements.

The Net Result: Brand Trust is Fleeting

Critical brand trust is difficult to earn and even more difficult to maintain in the online world, as a number of factors chip away at brand loyalty with every click of the mouse.

Brand promiscuity:

Whether on or offline, only three in ten people are committed to specific brands today, down from four in ten a year ago. More than half of consumers say they have no real preference, signalling a propensity to switch. Furthermore, only 9 percent of people are loyal to just one brand, down from 14 percent the year before.

Competing Marketing Messages:

A recent survey indicated that consumers are able to maintain only a finite number of online relationships - fewer than ten in fact - so new or competing online information may result in one trusted brand being displaced from the limited scope of online relationships by another.

Consumer’s Propensity to Shop Around:

36 percent of online consumers are ‘window shopping’ on the Internet, researching and comparing prices, products and services. An additional 24 percent are actually purchasing, visiting upwards of three to five sites in one surfing session. For nearly 70 percent of online consumers price is the primary component of a buying decision. As such, the impact of online research on buying decisions, and thereby brand trust, is significant.

Brand Pollution

Online brand pollution through outdated or incorrect messages contributes to brand trust decay. 30 percent of information on the Web is more than one year old, meaning that negative news stories and bad product reviews linger in cyberspace. A click on a link that leads to an error page due to a failure to update invites the web user to try a competitor’s site, without the original site owner being any the wiser.

Companies must understand what messages and images customers are seeing about their brands daily online if they are to maintain and nurture brand trust.

Nurturing Trust Online

On the Internet, the brand is everything, embodying a company virtually in the consumer’s mind. As such, all the messages, images and information consumers read, whether on the authorised corporate Web site or elsewhere on the Internet, impacts on the brand perception.

In a world where consumer loyalty is more fleeting than ever, the three key components of building brand trust are:

? Maximising ‘trust signals’

? Promoting multi-channel customer interaction

? Promising only what one can deliver

Trust signals

These include:

1. Experience: The sharing of positive experiences helps to reduce risk and engender trust.

2. Familiarity: Frequent exposure to a brand serves as a cue to building trust.

3. Affiliation and Belonging: People intrinsically need to belong; if they feel part of a community, they tend to develop a communal sense of trust.

4. Transparency: Open and transparent communications, such as updating customers about the status of a transaction or order, increases trust.

5. Factual Signals and Heuristic Cues: Objective security guarantees, certificates or statements help enhance the overall feeling of security.

Addressing these factors in combination is the strongest approach, as they rarely exist independently and the presence of one bolsters another. Furthermore the ability to interact with your company through multiple channels is key. A recent Carlson study showed that customers who use three or more channels of communication with a company feel 66% more committed than consumers with just one touch point.

Fundamentally, companies must deliver on their promises and promise only what they can deliver. Down at the corner shop of the new millennium, discussion of negative experiences spreads like wildfire and one bad experience can quickly multiply and influence future buying behaviour on a global scale.

Brand trust pays off. It costs seven to ten times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to keep a current one and a five percent ‘loyalty increase’ can lead to a lifetime profit increase of 95 percent. In this world of digital Darwinism, only the strongest companies will survive and trust will be a key factor—if not THE key factor—in survival long term.

This article originally appeared in British Brands, the publication of the British Brands Group, issue 15. Contact or Tel: 07020 934250.

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