Tony Evans, Planning Director at BJL, believes that brand trust and the value exchange must be aligned for them to drive real success.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment: think back to the first time you used the cab-hailing service Uber (assuming you have, of course). You will have pressed a button on an app, and a car will have arrived to pick you up a few minutes later. In that moment of taking the plunge with a service you’d never used before, I’ll bet that trust had very little to do with your decision. Encouraged by the seamless ‘magic’ of the Uber experience, it’s more likely you took a leap of faith that made your lack of trust in the brand irrelevant.
I doubt too that following that first Uber ride, your trust in the local taxi firm you’d been using for years suddenly disappeared. But chances are you haven’t used that firm since, as Uber is now your cab hailer of choice.
This example demonstrates how the role of trust in the brand success formula can shift. Uber is just one example of a business that has caused massive disruption to its industry in recent years. In doing so, these disrupters have reshaped how consumers think about their relationships with brands, and crucially how they think about trust.
Trust is all well and good, until something better comes along.
The value exchange.
I’d argue that when it comes to a brand’s commercial success, consumers’ perceptions of the value they get from the brand are as important as the trust they have in it – if not more so. Or to put it another way, consumers are interested in the answer to the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question first and foremost.
But value and trust are interlinked. The following definition of trust from dictionary.com is a useful basis for explaining this dynamic:
- reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
- confident expectation of something; hope.
A brand’s ability to consistently deliver value to customers builds up the confidence those customers have in the brand, which in turn builds the hope (expectation and trust) they feel about further, future interactions. As a result, customer choices become easier and they develop a go-to repertoire of brands they trust.
The ‘What’s in it for me?’ question comes first, particularly in an age of unprecedented consumer choice and empowerment. But the relationship between this value exchange and the role of trust varies according to the brand and its customer base.
Prove your proposition.
For example, the ‘What’s in it for me?’ filter helps to explain why scandal-hit brands like Volkswagen and Facebook have been able to bounce back. Both VW’s emissions scandal in 2015 and Facebook’s data breach scandal in 2018 were hugely damaging, but the resultant haemorrhaging of trust hasn’t proved terminal for either business. Instead consumers have come round to the fact that one still makes great cars and the other still provides great digital services. That’s what’s in it for them.
But we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that companies can get away with any dastardly deed. Trust is damaged precisely when brands no longer deliver on the core rational benefits (the confidence) or the emotional brand values (the hope) that consumers expect from them.
It’s just a matter of understanding which expectations carry most weight within a given audience. If an audience primarily buys a brand because of its ethical principles – and that brand is then shown to be in breach of those principles – the resultant loss of trust would significantly undermine the value exchange for that audience, leading to an exodus of customers. Similarly, if Facebook kept crashing, or Uber became much more expensive, their respective audiences would lose confidence in these brands and no longer see it as a worthwhile value exchange.
Maintaining trust is therefore about a brand’s ability to continue providing a compelling answer to the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question. It’s why we at BJL have defined our mission statement as ‘Stand for something. Take on anything’.
This agency rally cry is our commitment to ensure that our clients always have a clear direction for the delivery of products and/or services, principles and behaviours that its customers will value and have confidence in. To do that, we work with brands to ensure that those principles and behaviours are ingrained in their businesses.
If you trade on ethical credentials, you can’t simply proclaim what you stand for and not act on it – particularly in these highly charged political times (see the recent tide of ‘woke washing’ accusations against brands). And if you trade on offering a seamless service, you better make sure you continue to deliver for customers. In today’s world of ultra-transparency, customers will certainly let you know if you don’t.
Warm, ‘trustworthy’ words aren’t enough. You have to prove your proposition by living and breathing it every day.