Don’t obsess over ‘brand trust’ alone – it’s just another useless metric
A not-so-wise (but full of life lessons) cartoon character once exclaimed: “I’m a cop and you will respect my authority!”
No prizes for guessing who said that and granted, it’s a weird quote to start any self-respecting marketing thinking. But that’s about as authoritative as a marketer relying on a single reputation metric (exhibit a: “brand trust”) to define brand strategy. Micro-obsessively unnecessary.
At a time when political, economic and scientific authority has broken down as the truth is fragmented (and distorted) through unreliable messages, hyperconnected networks and siled echo chambers to respond on a topic’s agenda, we should ask ourselves if there is a clear relationship between trust and “success,” especially from our perspective as humble marketers contributing to commercial well-being.
This is not a plea to abandon trust. Rather a call to recognize the complexity of scaling trust with customers in this age of fragmentation (not to mention culture wars) where brand managers must fearlessly strive to build a strategic image. full of nuances.
Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer found that in 18 of the 27 countries surveyed, businesses are the only trusted institution, while there is a sense of neutrality towards NGOs, governments and the media. It might even suggest that in the midst of the pandemic, the global force of capitalism has tilted public trust towards companies representing their interests more than even governments. Here in the UK it’s not clear as business confidence is 11 points below the global average (out of 50) ahead of only South Korea, Japan and Russia. This highlights a deeply skeptical and complex macro picture in which brands compete for extra customer attention, not to mention trust.
During the pandemic, I’ve worked with several brands aiming to organize a wide range of marketing metrics into a simpler hierarchy of customer effects mapped around a carefully diagnosed journey to purchase or, in the world of change of behavior, “stages of change”. Regardless of brand or category ‘…is a brand I trust’ is that annoying sheen that fails to dislodge from any progressive conversation about what metrics to work from. But take it out and put it back, we have to.
There is a fundamental discrepancy between customer responses in surveys and the way they think or behave – a cognitive dissonance between an answer they provide and a state of mind they have or an action they take . They are the least trustworthy narrators (what fun would this gig be otherwise?) and while on the whole they answer a trust-based question well or badly, it has very little bearing on performance. overall company. Argos is the fourth most trusted brand in the UK on Trustpilot, but its FTSE rating is almost 74% worse than five years ago. Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard and Adobe are among the least reliable brands (along with Facebook and Underarmour), but their indexes are comfortably above historical levels taken over the same period.
Source: London Stock Exchange (January 2022)
But beyond the vanity of the stock price index, let’s explore the nature of “trust” when it comes to people and brands and illustrate why it’s an unnecessary distraction to focus all our efforts on, for example. in relation to the adoption of a set of measures of success. If ever the tyranny of “or” was in play (as opposed to the majestic undertone of “and”), it is an industry’s collective obsession with trust.
Different types of trust
There are two types of trust that brands (and people) seek to build over time to build lasting relationships: The first is cognitive confidence. Will this bus (or delivery) arrive on time based on my previous experiences? Will this chocolate taste as good as I remember? Is the information provided by this person likely to be true? Whenever there is a deliberation in a person’s mind about the reliability and baseline value of an experience in relation to previous interactions (and that experience is consistent or positive with said historical experience), the brand or person provides cognitive trust. It’s a quick mental transaction, plain and simple.
Yes cognitive confidence is the Ying (living in the head), then emotional trust is the Yang (a combination of the head and the heart): does this person or this company respect their values or their philosophy regarding how I feel? A close friend, relative, or spouse usually delivers in spades because we humans are social creatures, building our tribes on a cocktail of mutual trust and decency.
Brands, especially those that claim their “purpose” beyond satisfying customers and creating value for financial stakeholders, will find this act harder to follow because they don’t really exist in the minds of brands. a target market only when a need or a desire arises. If you want my custom, deliver what I want. Do I really have to commit so much and show my respect because you conduct your business ethically? How do I know you do what you say and help make society better?
The problem with emotional trust is that brands play such a peripheral role in nurturing customers that trust (in companies that don’t extract excess value from the earth or pay enough corporate taxes, for example) requires just too much emotional processing to care about. It’s anything but a quick transaction. This is why “brand trust” can never be seen as a single metric to rule them all.
Most consumer goods brands on our supermarket shelves represent a consistent product that buyers believe is of uniform quality. Service companies, on the other hand, have offers subject to quality variations. Hotel chains like Travelodge, for example, vary widely in quality by location. Even John Lewis does it. I repeat: this is not a call to abandon “trust” as a metric. Instead treat it with a healthy dose of honest skepticism across brand marketing efforts, as it’s not the “what you see is what you get” figure that it might seem to be.
And if trust in brands drops like in the UK (-5 points in the latest Edelman barometer), does it matter as much to companies as one might think? Wouldn’t it be worth spending a little more time in diagnostic mode exploring the “trust” relationship with other measures such as unaided awareness, consideration, perceptions of brand codes, associations and Revered NPS? Your brand respondents might well be a skeptical bunch, but still convert through the funnel with aplomb.
It’s come full circle: trust alone is simply not enough, as evidenced by the stock market indices of Argos, Adobe and Activision where a lot of sorcery is at play. It requires that brand managers and their peers welcome nuance with open arms and identify the combination of metrics most closely correlated with positive behaviors and attitudes towards their company. There may be three. There may be more. All we can be sure of is that there is never just one. Certainly not brand trust. Or “authority”.