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Earning Customer Trust in an Increasingly Skeptical World

Earning customer trust is vital

Trust is paramount to the success and longevity of any relationship, including the relationship between brands and their customers. Brands rely on customer trust for stability and growth, and right now, that trust is weak. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 34% of consumers trust most of the brands they buy.  

This can be partially attributed to a shift in culture. Edelman’s research shows that consumers now expect brands to take a larger role in society, with consumers expressing interest in brands combatting fake news and misinformation, taking stands on societal issues, and brands expressing shared values. A 2017 study by Cone Communications found similar results, reporting they would purchase a product because the company advocated for a value they share. 

This shift makes sense when considering the rise of corporate giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, whose influence on our daily lives is undeniable. Consumers are increasingly concerned with brands’ greater impact on society, giving much attention to how brands handle and protect customer privacy and their impact on the environment, public health, and human rights. 

Brands should take note and respond to this shift. Beyond just general decency, proactively addressing these concerns can help brands earn consumers’ trust, which, surprise surprise, pays dividends for a business.  

The Benefits of Earning Customer Trust 

Earning shoppers’ trust fosters brand loyalty, with repeat customers facilitating growth. Shoppers are more than twice as likely to patronize a trusted brand before a competitor, continue purchasing from that brand, and even act as brand advocates, promoting and defending the brand, if they trust it. 

Customers reward trusted brands
Source: Edelman

Edelman also found that consumers pay significantly more attention to advertisements from brands they trust compared to those that they do not fully trust. With 74% of consumers using at least one method to avoid advertising, that extra attention can provide a significant advantage over competitors. 

Trust is Earned by Demonstrating Competency and Sincerity 

According to Kevin Sanders, a marketing thought-leader with 25 years of experience at Kellogg’s, The Coleman Company, Timberland, and founder of Becoming Trusted, trust is earned through the combination of two factors: competency and sincerity.   

Companies have become exceedingly proficient at communicating how well the product performs, the quality of materials, and its dependability. Collectively, these factors represent competency: a product performs the desired function well. While competency is certainly important, it is only half of the puzzle for earning trust.   

The other half is sincerity. Sincerity is a measure of honesty and fairness, or general goodwill. It means that brands aren’t trying to deceive or mislead their customers and that they’re charging fair prices. It means that they care about their customers’ experience, even after they’ve made a purchase; that customers are more than a number. Many companies struggle to earn customer trust because they fail to communicate sincerity. In most cases, this is not because they lack it, but because they don’t proactively communicate sincerity in their messaging. 

Why is that? 

In the past, brands had the luxury of time to prove them honest and fair. Shoppers couldn’t order online; they had to go to stores, and they made relationships with these businesses. Over time, opportunities would naturally present themselves for a business to demonstrate its sincerity, so it only had to promote its competency in its marketing materials. With globalism and ecommerce, that reality is gone. If brands want to earn trust, they cannot afford to be passive. They must learn to actively communicate competency and sincerity.  

If brands want to earn trust, they cannot afford to be passive. They must learn to actively communicate competency and sincerity.  

How to Earn Customer Trust 

Communicating sincerity is not as difficult as it sounds, so long as you’re willing to match words with actions. Use the following three steps to proactively communicate your brand’s sincerity and build trust. 

1 – Define your mission 
It’s easier to rally your employees and your audience if you have a clear mission to work towards. Start with a long-term vision, but then set achievable short-term goals that will bring you closer to it. By defining your mission, you create a topic that allows you to organically highlight your brand’s sincerity. Share why this cause is important to your company, and report on how your brand helps support it through its goals.  

2 – Invite your audience to aid in your mission 
Once you’ve defined your mission and set short-term goals, invite your audience to help you achieve them. Rallying behind a common cause promotes engagement and builds rapport. REI did this spectacularly during the 2019 government shutdown. As reports came in of littering and vandalism at unstaffed national parks, REI asked its audience to help them clean the parks. It was an opportunity for the company to back up its words with actions, demonstrating its sincerity to earn respect and trust with its community. 

3 – Use social media to engage directly with your audience 
Social media is the vehicle for communicating your brand mission and inviting audience engagement. In the place of in-person interactions, brands can use social media to showcase their products (highlighting competency) as well as their efforts to support their employees, help customers with issues, and their actions in wider societal issues (demonstrating sincerity). 

It also represents a great application of behavioral economics. If brands can cultivate a distinct brand personality that strikes a cord with shoppers, they can create an emotional impetus that encourages purchases or sparks conversations. One need look no further than Wendy’s infamous Twitter account to see the engagement they’ve generated from their fiery interactions with customers and competitors. Readers loved the strong personality and word quickly spread across the internet of Wendy’s twitter account.

The fact that consumers prefer to patronize brands they can trust should come as no surprise. The difficulty has been in learning how to prove worthy of consumer trust in an increasingly skeptical, fast paced world. While challenging, brands should make dedicated efforts to earn customer trust for both the well-being of their communities and the longevity of their business.