3 Ways People Build Trust That Brands Should Borrow

Consumer expectations for brands are increasing, but their trust in those same companies is decreasing. Find out how brands can build trust with customers.

By Jaime Netzer

Feb 26, 2020

5 min

All healthy relationships depend on trust. That includes the relationship between a brand and its customers — both loyal and would-be. But in 2020, this trust is often on shaky ground. As consumer expectations for brands rise, their faith in those same companies falters more and more. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Study, trust is almost as important to consumers in their buying decisions as quality and value.

"Consumers ranked brand trust as one of the top factors they consider when making a purchase, with 81% of survey respondents saying that they 'must be able to trust the brand to do what is right,'" Ad Age explains. That same study, however, found that just 34% percent of consumers trust the brands they buy and use.

So how to fix the trust gap? There are a number of potential solutions, but we've been thinking about the nature of trust and how brands might borrow from this nature to better their relationships — and therefore their bottom line. Brands aren't human, but that doesn't mean they can't apply basic human principles of trust to guide their decisions and engender trust with their audiences. Here are three main principles we believe brands would do well to uphold.

1. Admit your mistakes.

No company wants to wake up to a bad review. But the truth is, consumers don't expect brands to be perfect — the same way they don't expect their loved ones to, either. But if those loved ones ignored them when they were angry, they'd be furious. So your brand should be in the regular habit of monitoring, evaluating, and responding to negative reviews. What makes for a good review response? Make sure your response has the following three elements:

  1. The response communicates that the company is listening

  2. It communicates that the company agrees there is an opportunity

  3. It communicates that the company is doing what it can to address the problem

The other truth? Having some negative reviews — with your responses to them — actually adds authenticity.

"At the heart of it, it's important that especially if most of the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, some negative reviews, especially if they're about relatively minor attributes, just add a layer of validation to the overall content," explains Sucharita Kodali, VP and Principal Analyst Serving Ebusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals at Forrester. (For even more on how reviews and ratings shape customer experience, watch the full webinar.)

The bottom line? 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and reviews produce an average 18% uplift in sales. Be straightforward with your customers when you could've done better, and watch your relationship flourish.

2. Don't always self-promote.

This one is easy to understand, but perhaps more difficult to remember for brands than people. You won't keep someone's interest if you prattle on about yourself all the time. In conversation, it's true listening that engenders trust (more on that in a minute) and it's also the sharing of valuable information. This is where content marketing comes in. The foundation of any good content marketing program should be generosity. It is the job of your content to speak to your readers' needs, provide them valuable solutions, and maybe, maybe mention your product as a possible solution to those problems. Too often, brands start the content creation process with what they need in mind — not what their readers might need.

Heed the advice from the folks at the Content Marketing Institute: "Keep in mind the 80/20 rule for your content creation: 80% of your content should be useful and non-promotional while the other 20% can talk about your product." You want your content to be both reliable and useful. Publish regularly to establish the first; research what your competitors are doing to accomplish the second. Fill in the gaps with content your audience might need that your competitors are not creating.

3. Learn how to communicate effectively.

In other words, stop chasing your customers around shouting at them, and wait for them to ask for what they need.

In a post-GDPR world, your best bet to authentically connect with your customers — without freaking them out — is not to chase them around the internet in mostly blind attempts to anticipate what they might hypothetically need based on their demographics. Haven't you heard? Demographics are dead. In their place — intent marketing.

According to Google Research, marketers who rely only on demographics to reach consumers miss more than 70% of potential shoppers. This is because demographics simply aren't a complete story — they don't fill in what consumers need. "Intent beats identity," writes Lisa Gevelber, Google's VP of Marketing. "Immediacy trumps loyalty. When someone has a want or need, they turn to their smartphone for help. When a need arises, people turn to search and YouTube to look for answers, discover new things, and make decisions. We call these intent-filled moments, micro-moments. And they're the best opportunity marketers have to connect with people at the exact moment they are looking for something."

If you have a world-class search experience, your brand will be ready to answer consumer questions accurately and consistently, no matter where they're asking them. The more consumers tell you what they need, the more you can pivot your offers — and even your product or service — to fit those needs. None of this can be achieved by cookie-ing someone. Use intent marketing to stop chasing your customers and start building trust by giving them what they need, when they need it.


A final note: In addition to treating customers well and applying human principles of trust to business practice, brands should also treat the world around them well, if they really want to engender trust in consumers. "While 47% of consumers are able to trust a brand for its products alone, 55% report trusting a brand when it offers both a valuable product and treats its customers well," AdAge reports. "When positively impacting society is factored into the trust equation, the number of consumers inclined to side with a specific brand jumps to 68%"

Discover more ways you can improve your customer experience and increase revenue in our whitepaperThe Complete Guide to Intent Marketing.

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