Trust Capital Is the New Marketing Gold Standard

Now, more than ever, trust capital may become the new marketing gold standard, joining brand equity as a key metric for valuing a company’s relationship with its customers and prospects.

My father used to caution not to believe everything one heard or read. He was not a cynic but an optimistic realist. Nonetheless, like the majority of his generation, his basic intuition urged him to trust existing institutions and assume (that most dangerous word), that what they were saying or doing was for the common good. “Fake news” had not morphed from the lingua franca to become the lingua twitter.

That’s not always the case anymore. MediaPost shared the following on Mar. 19:

“The news business is battling public distrust. Nearly half of respondents to a new Axios/Ipsos poll said they do not trust traditional media ‘very much or at all” to accurately deliver information about the COVID-19 virus.’”

That distrust should inform how marketers must rethink their approach to customers and prospects as we plunge into a new and uncertain era.

On Jan. 19, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer published this worrisome finding:

“… despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures — government, business, NGOs and media — is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behavior.”

If “disbelief” is the new normal gut reaction to our foundation institutions, it goes without saying that our commercial messages, however well wrapped in engaging narratives are likely to need the “suspension of disbelief” to be effective. That almost certainly means stepping back a little (or a lot) from our “act now” knee-jerk impulses and asking ourselves what we need to do to achieve that “suspension,” to establish the critical trust that my father suggested might be missing.

Building Trust With Customers and Prospects

If we look at the Amazon ethos, building credibility item by item, on-time delivery by on-time delivery, rapid refund by rapid refund, trust impacts each transaction more than efficiency. Not surprisingly, that same Edelman study found “ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability, and purpose drive 76% of the trust capital of business, while competence accounts for only 24%.”

Trust capital may become the new marketing gold standard, joining brand equity as a key metric for valuing a company’s relationship with its customers and prospects.

But how can we measure integrity, dependability and purpose? It may be easier said than done. Perhaps a good starting point is looking backwards.

How much feedback have you had from your customers, especially negative feedback? (We all love compliments but we seldom learn from them.)

One of my first jobs was to read complaint letters, research what had (or had not) gone wrong, and then write for the signature of the CEO, a truly personal answer. The number of “thank you” notes we received was the best lesson you could have in the value of real personalization.

If you don’t have a strong culture of responding to every complaint, not with a form letter or email but with a thoughtful and helpful personal communication, you should put one in place, now. If I can’t talk to a knowledgeable and helpful human being instead of an algorithm, like many others, I’m gone and your trust capital has tanked, or at best, taken a hit.

A recent blog post from Yes Marketing put it this way:

“In a world driven by access to options, an emotional connection with a brand can be the tipping point for consumers when deciding where to spend their dollars.”

You certainly want it to tip your way, and that means doing whatever is necessary to establish and retain that emotional connection and trust.

Whatever we do to build trust capital during these uncertain times, even if not immediately measurable, is certain to pay big dividends when the crisis is past.


Customer Control Creates New Phase of Apologetic Marketing

In a customer-centric marketing ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. Brands must accept that customers control their reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

In a customer-is-in-control ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. They need to open up honest, meaningful conversations with their customers — and understand that we no longer push advertisements to customers through media, but rather engage and communicate with them. Brands must accept that the customer controls a brand’s reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

For years now, customers have controlled the way brands are perceived in the marketplace. Today, that leverage is only growing. Companies can no longer hide behind big brand campaigns, just as marketing can no longer put a good spin on a problematic or dated company. If they try, consumers will either ignore it altogether (because they recognize the idealized corporate-speak) or, worse, they’ll attack in social media. Then, what started as a small problem can get out of control quickly.

Marketing executives need to work with the entire c-suite to make sure brand promises and customer experiences are consistent throughout the entire journey. They need to ensure the brand pillars are not only communicated, but also embraced across every component of the organization. And they have to make sure every team in the company can live up to the vision presented in the marketing.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the disconnect play out on a grand scale for companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, Facebook and unfortunately many more. By not aligning the brand platform with their internal values and customer experience, these companies have had to publicly recognize their faults and apologize for missteps. They each faced distrust among their customer base and, even though that trust was lost in a second, it often takes years to gain back.

So How Can Companies Learn From These Brands?

In today’s marketplace, companies need to do three key things:

  • Be transparent. Customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. But today, customers aren’t just immune to, but are also appalled by corporate-speak and over-hyped, insincere brand promises. Customers want brands to be real, to mean something and to associate with their beliefs and values. Companies today need to be humanized so customers can connect with them.
  • Align departments across the organization. Customers perceive companies as one entity and they expect that, whether they’re in a store, on the site or calling customer service, they’ll have the same experience across the board. Companies, however, are made up of different departments, with different bosses (who have different beliefs), and are often measured against different (sometimes opposing) KPIs. Today, corporate structure needs to embrace customer expectations. Politics and personalities have to take the back seat to the unified brand vision.
  • Companies need to embrace their customers. They can no longer lay out their corporate vision and marketing plans without fully understanding what the marketplace needs — both today and tomorrow. They need to understand what customers are looking for and shape their products and their company accordingly. Most companies hate hearing this, but they also need to narrow their audience and focus their company. Very few brands can and should appeal to all consumers. Too many brands try to satisfy everyone, remaining conservative so they don’t alienate any prospective customers. In doing so, however, they don’t resonate with anyone. Brands that take a stand, know who their audience is and what they want, and mold their company around that always win. Even if they outrage a part of their base, they inspire and resonate with their core, turning them into passionate advocates who reinforce the brand and allow more organic growth.

What Can You Do When It’s Too Late and You’ve Lost Consumer Trust?

While it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, companies need to be honest, fall on their sword and open up to the gaps they have. Just like Facebook’s WSJ ad and Wells Fargo’s TV campaign, they need to promise to do better. But again, it needs to be more than a marketing promotion; it needs to be a genuine re-set, one that all departments and the entire c-suite embrace. If it’s not, it’s only a matter of time until you’re back in the hot seat.