Brand Strategy

Brand Safety – Building and Managing Consumers’ Trust in Your Brand

Posted 10 Jun 2021

This paper represents the first in a two-part series on Brand Safety and focuses on Brand Trust. The second paper will focus on the importance of advertising context in Brand Safety.

Empowered consumers now, more than ever, have the ability and platform to criticize brands for their perceived untrustworthiness. Furthermore, they also have visibility of brand missteps and untrustworthy behavior at a pace and scale like never before. Knowing how to manage consumers’ trust in your brand - purposefully and efficiently - has never been more important.

What is Brand Trust?

Think of it like an ‘insurance policy’ to surviving future risks of being seen as ‘untrustworthy’. Brand Trust equals stored value in the form of the consumer’s preparedness to regard breaches in trust as an aberration, not the brand’s normal behavior. However, once established, Brand Trust is not guaranteed ongoing, and must be continually managed and maintained.

For marketing, trust is part of the brand promise, and for many categories and buyer situations, heavily influences consumer choice. For the past 17 years, trust has been a driver in every financial services brand choice model produced by Forethought. Across other industries we have observed that trust can account for as much as 32% of consumers’ brand choice.

How do you know when to respond to potential threats to Brand Trust?

In the heat of the moment when confronted by a potential threat to Brand Trust, and being judged in the court of public opinion, many respond hastily. But ‘how should you respond’ is not the first question you should be asking. That question should be do we need to respond at all?

Questions to be answered with utmost priority:

  1. How prevalent is awareness of the issue?
  2. Is the issue commonly attributed to my brand?
  3. How does the issue impact the important drivers of trust for my brand?

Only once armed with this insight, can brand owners know if and how to respond. An issue with high awareness and attribution, that negatively impacts the most important drivers for your brand warrants a response to prevent the loss of social license and then embarking on the long road of rebuilding Brand Trust. When a response is warranted, the biggest issue is believing small actions will placate the consumer. Half measures can be more damaging than no measures at all because it draws attention to the fact that you are not taking the matter seriously.

Brand Trust Threat Response Matrix 06

Figure 1: Brand Trust Threat Response Matrix

How do you build and manage consumers’ trust in your brand?

It is vital to understand what drives trust for your brand and category. With that understanding you must earnestly operate to build a bank of stored trust, monitor threats to trust and respond only when the threat has damaging potential. Without the primary data analytics, decision makers are perhaps over-reliant on personal judgement that building trust will have a positive effect on business outcomes.

From both a customer acquisition and retention perspective, the genesis of building trust begins with deconstructing it to establish what performance attributes – both perceived and experienced – contribute to trust.

Trust is a collective expression of qualities. The literature offers one such model* that defines the ‘pillars of trust.’ These pillars of trust, which can be empirically deconstructed into the components or drivers, include:

  • Capability – belief that the organization is able to look after my needs (e.g. Is an expert in investment);
  • Character – belief that the organization acts ethically (e.g. Offers socially responsible investments); and
  • Benevolence – belief that the organization is on my side and trying to help me (e.g. Provides individually tailored investment recommendations).

Only with an understanding of the hierarchy of important drivers of Brand Trust, can brand decision makers know when and how to respond – by purposefully and efficiently setting out to deliver targeted messages to manage and build trust.

Trust diagram 05

Figure 2: Brand Trust Industry Models

Footnote: *Mayer et al. (1995) Integrative Model of Organization Trust