Read: The Enthusiasts on trusting brands

Our relationship and trust in brands has shifted considerably in recent years. Now more than ever we expect brands to be transparent, trustworthy and authentic. We sat down with brand experts Martin Yeoman and Jamie Hitchcock, who together form the strategic and creative brand communication practice The Enthusiasts, to get their insight on the importance of building a brand consumers can trust. 

During the course of your career, have you seen a shift in customer expectation? (In terms of transparency / trust / authenticity)

Absolutely. A seismic shift. Historically, we perhaps had blind faith in big brands (and the companies behind them) that they were doing the right thing. Whether that was the ingredients in their products, food safety, the ethics of manufacturing, or the impact of their business on the environment. Our expectations of companies has increased exponentially. We’re more concerned about our health, the conditions of workers, and of course the environment. Companies, quite rightly, have responsibilities if they want to operate in our communities.

Today, there’s nowhere to hide – or it’s certainly getting harder. Actions such as food labeling standards, the rise of advocacy groups such as Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Report – and the big one, social media, have meant that what was private, and behind closed doors, is now out in the public – and that’s where companies are judged.

This has definitely changed consumer behaviour – the ethics of a brand play a major part in the purchase decision making process. We like to think about whether you’d give a vote to a brand – not just pay for it. It’s a much higher bar today. One thing to note is that whilst a high percentage of people rate these factors as important decision drivers, behaviour follows to a lesser degree. Conscious products often come with a price tag – and not everyone can afford it.

Why is it important to build trust with your customer?

Trust is really about reputation and studies have shown that high reputation companies excel on a number of measures.

- Product advocacy – people recommending the product or service – generally regarded as the most powerful driver of brand choice

- Premium price – high reputation companies have the ability to charge a premium, which leads directly to profitability.

- Mental shortcuts – we make decisions instinctively and trust is something we’re wired to make judgements on. An insurance company that doesn’t have trust isn’t going to be on your consideration set.

Specific to recruitment, is the employment brand. Where someone works says a lot about them and their values – so alignment is hugely important. We often hear anecdotes from employees who work for companies with poor reputations. They dread the family Christmas party as relatives spend the whole time complaining about the places they work. It becomes personal.

The big one however is the ability to bounce back in a crisis. Trust is goodwill stored in the bank and sometimes you need to spend it. The Volkswagen US diesel scandal is perhaps the best, most recent example. They lied, they cheated, they were found guilty and were fined US$25bn. Yet two years later they bounced back and were more profitable than ever. They had a lot of trust in the bank.

What do you think makes a trustworthy brand?

Trust starts with the products and services – that they perform, are reliable and do what they promise. This is the foundation. Then comes Governance, does the company behave in a transparent and open way? Is it responsibly run – treats people with respect, demonstrates responsible behaviours, manages relations with shareholders well.

The big area we’ve seen advances in is Citizenship – the ways in which a brand or company gives back to the community, or takes positive steps to improve the environment. Some of this is done well, and has integrity – and some is merely green washing. Consumers can tell which is which.

A big opportunity for New Zealand companies is what your staff have to say about you. It’s a case of two degrees of separation here, everyone knows someone who knows someone who works at ASB, Air New Zealand, Fonterra…. Staff are hugely influential in telling positive work stories – being a great place to work, builds a strong reputation.

Air New Zealand has set the benchmark for some time. Consistently ranked the strongest in reputation – their product experience delivers (and when it doesn’t we forgive them), they’ve been well led, importantly by visible leaders. Many New Zealanders would know the names of several previous Air New Zealand CEO’s by name – not many could name a CEO of a bank). They would have a huge carbon footprint, but have worked hard to make a meaningful contribution to environmental issues. And above all, whether it’s through the customer experience or the safety videos – their staff look like they’re having fun, that they enjoy being part of Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand have done such a good job that in a recent study they were found to have the highest company reputation score in Australia – by Australians. That’s saying something.

Whittaker’s is the other stand out example. Great product, excellent at communicating & innovating, family owned, haven’t put a foot wrong – accordingly they have built trust.

What practical advice would you give to businesses who want to build more trust with their customers?

- Make sure you have a genuinely great product and service – and keep making it better.

- Don’t hide skeletons in the closet – they will be found.

- Then communicate. And communicate more. A favourite quote of ours is “Lack of communication creates a vacuum that is filled with poison, misinformation and drivel”. It’s so true. And communication doesn’t just mean hiding behind paid communication, visible leadership, communicating directly with the public, with industry partners and with staff is key.

- And remember, people don’t expect a company to be perfect, they just want to know that you’re heading in the right direction.

About The Enthusisasts

The Enthusiasts is a strategic & creative brand communications practice. We create ambitious opportunities for growth, built from a deep understanding of the consumer. We focus on new ways of working in tune with today’s clients, consumers & technology.

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