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Larry Light, the former CMO at McDonald’s, said that we should think of brands not as trademarks but as trustmarks.  Others agree: the name of the game when it comes to branding is building trust.

I have a different point of view; I consider trust to be the easy part of the branding equation.  Brands are about expectations…the intersection of the brand promise, the consumer (needs, desires, preferences, sense of self), and trust which is the belief that the brand will deliver on its promise. Desire doesn’t come from trust, it comes from the promise.  Trust is the permission to act on the promise…but it’s the promise that attracts you.

Trust is the presumption of performance.  Believability ratings in concept tests are always very high. Based on experience with dozens of brand equity studies, the attribute, “is a brand I trust” is associated by consumers with a number of brands in a category.  Trust is a necessary but not sufficient condition because it is not particularly differentiating. Why are brands able to gain trust fairly easily?  In the book “Iconoclast”, Gregory Berns makes the case that familiarity quiets the amygdala (controls the fear response).  In other words, brand familiarity alone can lead to trust.

Trust can also be won from a number of sources other than the brand itself, such as the retailer.  I remember the first time I bought a big bag of frozen shrimp for $15 at the supermarket.  It was a brand I never heard of, packaged in a country I’ve never been to (Thailand).  Why in the world did I trust that product enough to buy it?  First, I trust Waldbaum’s; I buy most of my groceries at that store.  Second, the price was reasonable so it was sending a signal that this product was legit.  Third, as is pointed out in the book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, economic transactions occur between strangers because people feel they can trust the system. Buttressed by the protection of government agencies and laws, you trust that trading partners will deliver on their promise and that you won’t get harmed.  I think society conditions us to be trusting.  We trust the car won’t jump the light as we’re crossing the street.  We trust another car will stay in its lane. We trust the pilot is qualified. In today’s digital and social media world, a consumer’s access to assurance about a previously untried brand is enhanced.  In the near future, people will be able to have digital access to information and recommendations right at the point of purchase via mobile devices, augmented reality and interactive store experiences.  A marketer should be able to gain trust if the brand promise is something it can deliver on.

The harder part of branding-building is creating desire for YOUR brand amidst the long-tail of competing choices.  Brands are being delisted by retailers as they de-SKU not because of lack of trust but because they are redundant. Focus on the promise, on breaking through, on being relevant. In fact, if you ask me if I trust a brand I would never consider buying, the question itself is irrelevant.  Some level of desire for the offering must precede the question of trust.

In this economy, store brands are becoming more relevant and as they gain share, the experience that their performance is fit for purpose is increasing the level of trust that people have in them. National brands should not respond by saying “trust me more”; they need to innovate to develop new and more exciting promises they can keep that will reestablish the gap in benefits.

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2 Responses to “Building brands: are we putting too much trust in trust?”

  1. I have to agree that people seem to trust store brand more than a product brand and it is understandable as we are exposed to the channel much more often than to an individual product brand. There is also a lot more reference (reviews) available on line for a channel experience than a product one. In addition it is a lot easier to measure customer experience quality of a channel than it is of a product. Very good post, thank you.

  2. Good stuff.

    It’s interesting, as for most research that I’ve seen, “Brand I Trust” is typically the top driver through purchase funnels. What you’re suggesting is that this attribute is artificially boasted by levels of awareness, not neccessarily something implicit to a brand.

    And the firm that I work for does something called Pathway modeling, where essentially they try to figure out what functional attributes drive another emotional attribute, such as “brand I trust.” Since we don’t include awareness, or some of the external validation (i.e., Waldbaum’s) that you mention, it again makes sense that we would overlook this.

    I think that this is what you’re getting at towards the end of the post. You don’t simply build “trust,” there are other factors that ultimately bubble up to trust, such as “product for me,” “relevant,” “price,” etc.