8 Ways to Keep the Rust Off of Brand Trust

We in the marketing and public relations business talk a lot about brand trust. Do we walk it? With trust, simply put, you have a chance to succeed with prospects and customers. Without it, well, you do the math.

We in the marketing and public relations business talk a lot about brand trust. Do we walk it?

With trust, simply put, you have a chance to succeed with prospects and customers. Without it, well, you do the math. In data-driven marketing, where data is often described as the currency of customer engagement, here, too, trust is the bank.

Right now, sad to say, trust appears to be available only at a premium. There seems to be less and less of it at a time when we really need more and more of it. This is societal. It’s not just advertising and business where trust may be in short supply. Government, institutions, education, medicine, media all seem to be scrutinized, with a loss of trust in the balance. At a time when and where factual information has never been so available and transparent, fears of misinformation, opacity, and malevolence also appear to be heightened.

Believability is at risk.

I can’t fathom how to regain trust in all these institutions just now. But I can think of our world of marketing. Brand, and brand trust, matter more precisely now, because trust everywhere appears in short supply.

Recently, Edelman, a global public relations concern, published its annual “Trust Barometer” report, looking at trust issues among consumers across eight nations, among them the United States. I find the results illuminating, because it helps provide a blueprint of where brands might concentrate efforts to bolster trust.

MarketingCharts.com summarized some of the findings here:

brand trust chart
Chart Credit: MarketingCharts.com, July 2019

(Re)Gain the Trust Some Insights From the Report

Here’s my take on eight areas of the findings:

Product Must Perform

While it’s increasingly a customer-centric world, product still matters. Quality, performance, convenience consumers won’t even entertain trust if the produce/service fails the bar. In fact, it’s the biggest trust factor. Reputation may enable consumer consideration, but 67% of customers report they won’t come back if the product fails. More than eight in 10 consumers cite quality, convenience, value, and brand trust as a “deal breaker” or “deciding factor” in a purchase decision.

Trust: Why Now?

Consumers report several reasons why trusting brands is more important: 62% cite concerns about product experience (can’t afford a bad purchase, need products to keep pace with innovation, and reliance on brands for increased automation); 55% about customer experience (use of personal data, use of tracking and targeting, and use of artificial intelligence in customer service); and 69% about societal impact (fake news and misinformation, brand involvement in social issues, and affinity with personal values).

Yet There’s Considerable Room for Improvement

Just 34% of consumers trust most of the brands they buy and use. While some might see this as in indictment, I choose to see it as a huge opportunity. In the United States, overall, 54% trust businesses to do the right thing trust in government, by the way, is 40% .

The Trust Dividend Is Real

When trust is earned, the payback is pronounced. The difference between not fully trusting brands and trusting brands for a long time is a 28-point lift in percentage when considering what brand to buy first; 33-point lift in staying loyal; 27-point lift in being an advocate; and a 21-point lift in defending a brand.

We Must Walk the Talk

Remember greenwashing environmental benefits? “Trustwashing” is also a concern regarding brands and authenticity. Worldwide, 56% of consumers feel too many brands use societal issues as a marketing tactic to sell more product. Trust in business vs. trust in government has fallen off year-over-year between 4% and 6% in brands’ ability to effect positive change on societal impacts. If you’re buying into social good, it had better be the real deal. That means an enterprise commitment that’s followed through rather than a marketing promotion.

Most Consumers Have Taken Steps to Avoid Ads

I think it’s a mistake to say all ads are held in low esteem they’re not. Other surveys have shown that eight in 10 consumers still rely on advertising to discover new products and services. But three in four consumers have taken steps in their lives – ad blocking, paid subscriptions, and changed media habits to curtail the amount of advertising they see. More than three-fourths of consumers says they pay attention to ads from brands they trust!

Enable Reviews and Influencer Involvement

Most consumers say they trust what others say about a brand, more than what the brand says in advertising about itself. Working in combination peer review then owned, paid, or social content (ads) can work together to lift trust.

Run Hard

Interestingly, the more saturated the message (meaning, engagement across media channels), the greater chance for trust. One might think this doesn’t square with the previous ad avoidance message, but it goes to show repetition and reinforcement work. But only when the message is on-point, resonates with the user, and conveys authenticity.


Those of us who worry and work a lot about “trust” we have some mighty work to do. But even in an age of consumer skepticism or simply skepticism the hard, honest work of trust-building often becomes its own greatest reward, regardless of business payback. Despite all the doubts and pushback, consumers do want to believe this necessary work is getting done, and brands and ourselves can be all the better for it.

Marketers Doing the Data Privacy Balancing Act Ask What ‘I Want My Privacy’ Means

It’s not just policymakers who are trying to figure out how to act on consumer sentiments toward data privacy. We all, overwhelmingly, want it — business and consumer.

data privacy
Credit: Pexels.com

It’s not just policymakers who are trying to figure out how to act on consumer sentiments toward data privacy. We all, overwhelmingly, want it — business and consumer.

We are all seeking a U.S. federal privacy law to “repair” what may be broken in Europe (hey, the toaster needs fixing), and to correct any perceived privacy shortcomings in California’s new law (scheduled to take effect in January). Will such a federal law pass this year?

One of the ongoing challenges for policy in this area is what’s been called the privacy paradox. The paradox? Privacy in the form of consumer attitudes, and privacy in the form of consumer demands and behaviors, rarely are in sync. Sometimes, they are polar opposites, simultaneously!

  • Should law be enacted on how we feel, or respectful of what we actually do?
  • How do we define privacy harms and focus regulation only what is harmful and to go light, very light, or even foster wholly beneficial uses?
  • Should private sector controls and public sector controls be differentiated?
  • Do existing laws and ethical codes of conduct apply, and how might they be modified for the digital age?

On top of this, consumer expectations with data and technology are not fixed. Their comfort levels with how information is used at least in the advertising sector change over time. In fact, some marketers can’t keep pace with consumer demands to be identified, recognized and rewarded across channels. Generations, too, have differences in attitudes and behaviors.

What’s creepy today may in fact be tomorrow’s consumer-demanded convenience.

Case in point: It used to be people complained about remarketing the ad following them around on the Net as they browsed. (All the same, remarketing works that’s why it was so pervasive.) Today, in role reversal, consumers sound off when the product they purchased is the same product they still see in the display ad. The consumer has little patience when brand data is locked in data silos: the transaction database doesn’t inform the programmatic media buy, in this scenario.

The marketing and advertising business have been trying to solve for the privacy paradox since the Direct Marketing Association assembled its first code of ethics in the 1960s and introduced the Mail Preference Service in 1971. (Today, the Mail Preference Service is now known as dmaChoice, and DMA is now part of the Data Marketing & Analytics division of the Association of National Advertisers.) During the 1970s, consumers could use MPS to both add their names to marketing lists, and to remove their names from marketing lists for direct mail. At that time, far more consumers sought to add their names. Later, MPS strictly devoted itself to offering consumers an industry-wide opt-out for national direct mail, with add-ons for sweepstakes and halting mail to the deceased.

During the ’70s, DMA also required its member mailers (and later telemarketers and emailers) to maintain their own in-house suppression lists. These ethics behaviors were codified, to some extent, when the U.S. government enabled the Do-Not-Call registry and enacted the CAN-SPAM Act to complement these efforts.

Fair Information Practice Principles A Framework That Still Works Wonders

So here we are in the digital age, where digital display and mobile advertising are among addressable media’s growing family. Again, the marketing community rose to the challenge enacting the Digital Advertising Alliance YourAdChoices program (disclaimer, a client) and offering consumers an opt-out program for data collection used for interest-based advertising for Web browsing (desktop and mobile) and mobile applications.

Over and over again, the pattern is the same: Give consumers notice, give consumers control, prevent unauthorized uses of marketing data, protect sensitive areas recognize advertising’s undeniable social and economic power, enable brands to connect to consumers through relevance and trust and act to prevent real harms, rather than micromanage minor annoyances. Allow marketing innovations that create diversity in content, competition and democratization of information. Let the private sector invest in data where no harms exist.

‘I own my data!’

Data ownership is a dicey concept. Isn’t there sweat equity when a business builds a physical or virtual storefront and you choose to interact with it? Is there not some expectation of data being contributed in fair exchange for the digital content we freely consume and the apps we download and enjoy? And once we elect to become a customer, isn’t it better for the brand to know you better, to serve you better? Shouldn’t loyalty over time be rewarded? That’s an intelligent data exchange, and the economy grows with it.

The demand for access to everything free, without ads, and without data exchange, without payment to creators is a demand for intellectual property theft. Sooner than later, the availability and diversity of that content would be gone. And so would democracy. If you put everything behind an ad-free paywall, then only the elites would have access.

‘But I pay for my Internet service. I pay for my phone service!’

Sure you do and that pays for the cell towers, and tech and Web infrastructure, union labor with some profit for the provider. But unless you’re also paying for subscriptions and content it’s advertising that is footing the bill for the music you listen to, the news you read, the apps you use, and so on. All the better when ads are relevant.

At the end of the day, the consumer is always right and privacy is personally defined.

I’m all for limits on what governments can do with data when it comes to surveillance, and how it goes about maintaining our safety and security (a paradox of its own).

On the private sector side, policymakers might best act to give a privacy floor (do no harm) and where economic benefits accrue (to serve consumers without harms) allow consumers freely accessible tools to set their own privacy walls, using browser settings, industry opt-outs, brand preference centers and other widely available no-cost filters. It’s a wise society that can encourage responsible data flows, while blocking altogether irresponsible data flows. Get it right, and we all participate in a thriving 21st Century Information Economy. Get it wrong, and Europe and China will set the global rules. With some luck and deliberation, we’ll get this right.

Bad Thing! Or Why Segmentation by Consumer Attitudes May Be Dangerous

For years, B-to-B and B-to-C marketers have relied on attitudinal segmentation research to help them group their current customer base, and potential customers as well, for communication, promotion, marketing and experience initiatives. The thesis has been that, by asking a small, but meaningful, set of attitudinal questions, they would be able to develop an index, algorithm or framework equation that ranked these consumers by propensity to buy, both near-term and long-term.

For years, B-to-B and B-to-C marketers have relied on attitudinal segmentation research to help them group their current customer base, and potential customers as well, for communication, promotion, marketing and experience initiatives. The thesis has been that, by asking a small, but meaningful, set of attitudinal questions, they would be able to develop an index, algorithm or framework equation that ranked these consumers by propensity to buy, both near-term and long-term.

These frameworks—they’re arithmetic, so we can’t call them “models”—typically include questions regarding the importance of elements like value for money, acting with the consumer’s interests in mind, credit and payment terms, having knowledgeable employees, offering products which will meet the consumer’s needs, and the like. From these questions, basic segment categorization can be determined; and, once these three, four or five segments are established, we’ve often seen marketers go on to build assumptive plans and conduct further, more detailed, research around them.

The goal of these approaches is to produce attitudinal segments, which the questions can predict with high accuracy, often in the 80 percent or 90 percent range. This creates what economists would call a “post hoc ergo propter hoc” situation, Latin for “after this; therefore, because of this.” It is a logical fallacy, essentially saying that A occurred (the responses to the attitudinal questions); and then B occurred (the cuts, or segments, of consumers). Thus, A caused B. Once the B, or segment creation, stage has been established, further fallacies, such as creating reliable marketing, operational and experiential strategies around these supposed propensities, can be built. It’s a classic situation, where correlation is thought to be the same as causation. As your economics or stat professors may have told you, correlation and causation are far from being identical concepts.

As a consultant and analyst, I’ve seen this result of this application of research and analytics play out on a firsthand basis on multiple occasions. Here’s a recent one. A client in the retail office products market had been using an attitudinally derived element importance question framework for small business market segmentation purposes. The segment assumptions went unquestioned until followup qualitative research was conducted to better shape and target their planned marketing and operational initiatives. Importance of certain products and reliable service were identified in the research as key areas of focus and opportunity for the office products retailer; but, in the qualitative research, power of both focus areas appeared, anecdotally, to be consistent across all segments. And, even though implied supplier roles were suggested to build purchases, this was much more “leap of faith”-based on the established quantitative research segment personas than actual qualitative research findings.

There are related issues with what we can describe as quasi-behavioral measures, such as single question metrics (likelihood to recommend to a friend or colleague or the amount of service effort required on the part of a consumer); or traditional customer loyalty indices (where future purchase intent is included, but also attitudinal questions such as overall satisfaction). It’s not that they don’t offer some segmentation guidance. They do—on a macro or global level; but they tend to be less effective on a granular level, especially where elements of customer touchpoint experience are involved.

And, they tend to have limitations as predictors of segment behavior, a key business outcome for marketers and operations management. When compared to research and analysis techniques, such as customer advocacy and customer brand-bonding, which are contemporary, real-world frameworks built on actual customer experience—high satisfaction scores, high index scores and high net recommendation scores produced likely future purchase results (in studies across multiple industries) which were often 50 percent to 75 percent lower than advocacy or brand bonding frameworks. I’d be happy to provide proof for anyone interested in reviewing the findings.

So, that’s the scenario. The challenge, and potential danger, for marketers and those responsible for optimizing customer experience is that these attitudinal and quasi-behavioral questions are just that—attitudes and quasi-behaviors. Attitudes are fairly superficial feelings, and tend to be both tactical and reactive. And, because they are so transitory, their predictive value is often unstable and unreliable. Quasi-behaviors are also open to many similar challenges. More importantly, attitudes and quasi-behaviors are not behaviors, such as high probability downstream purchase intent based on actual previous purchase, evidence of positive and negative word-of-mouth about a brand based on prior personal experience, and brand favorability level based on experience. These are especially valuable in understanding competitive set, and they have real, and very stable, predictive and analytical value for marketers.

As Jaggers, the lawyer, said to Pip in Charles Dickens’, “Great Expectations,” take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” For marketers, that’s excellent shorthand for taking everything on behavior, and perceptions based on documented personal experience, rather than attitudes and quasi-behaviors.