There are some globally recognized brands with a personality so clear, you immediately associate them with certain words and phrases. Gatorade: sports, performance. Energizer: batteries, power. Lego: play, color.
“The fact remains that ubiquitous brands are incredibly powerful value-creation engines…” says Jonathan Copulsky, senior lecturer and former executive director of Medill’s Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University. “A ubiquitous brand is one where the brand’s presence and reputation extends well beyond the products or services with which it was originally associated…”.1
But what about brands that you respect, or brands that you specifically choose whenever you need something? Your time, money and information is valuable, and with the amount of options you have today, you won’t take your business to just anyone.
The concept of brand trust can often be overlooked in favor of short-term goals, but it’s a crucial piece of marketing strategy. Trust and loyalty often go hand-in-hand and will cement your brand in customers’ minds; when they’re looking for a product or service, they’ll know exactly where to go. Here, we will analyze the factors that contribute to brand trust, highlight notable, trustworthy leaders and provide recommendations to apply to your own brand.
What is brand trust?
Brand trust is the amount of respect and loyalty customers have for your brand, or how strongly they believe you can deliver on your promises. It is a public perception often shaped by a mixture of first-person experiences and company communications, for both of which marketing is a crucial component. Brand trust is not necessarily measured by repeat purchases or long-time usage, but rather how customers feel about your brand, and how willing they are to give their time, money, energy or information to you over other companies.
“We, as humans, tend to trust what other humans say and do, so trust is easy to develop but extremely difficult to maintain—and ridiculously easy to lose,” wrote Don Scultz, a global marketing communications pioneer and founder of the Medill Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications Program at Northwestern University. “In this interactive marketplace, marketers must be totally trustworthy, continuously, to gain and maintain the consumer’s trust and any ongoing relationship. There is simply no other path.”2
In today’s landscape, brand trust is usually based on:3
- Quality of products and services
- Public perception (ratings, reviews, etc.)
- Customer service experience
- Brand mission, values, and reputation
- Data security and privacy
- Political or philanthropic efforts
Other, similar concepts that overlap or relate to brand trust are brand affinity (or “brand love”), brand loyalty and brand equity. Some marketers may use these interchangeably, but experienced CMOs know that each has its own set of criteria and success gauges. Depending on how long your organization has been established and your marketing strategy for building trust, you might invest more time and effort into one category than the other.
Measuring Brand Trust
Reviews, sales and engagement are all good indicators of what people think about your brand, but brand trust can actually be measured more specifically. Resources like the Edelman Trust Barometer, Net Promoter Scores, and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) surveys can give you more concrete data to paint a clearer picture and help you glean important insights. These tools are recognized in the industry and are the basis by which many major companies measure their standing with customers.
Then, you can supplement your findings with secondary tools like sentiments within reviews, 3+ star ratings and surveys that include pointed questions (“How likely are you to recommend this brand to friends or family?” “How does this brand make you feel?”). Don’t forget to include employees as part of your audience, as they can be some of your strongest brand ambassadors.
When you think of brands that you trust, which ones come to mind? Are they in a specific industry? Are they small or large, local or national? You may feel different levels of brand trust on a micro and macro scale, but there are some large, well-known brands that we all experience to a similar degree. To assess those experiences, market research companies regularly conduct surveys to measure consumer sentiment on these corporations. This helps to reveal patterns in customer preferences and identify corporations to emulate (or not).
According to brand intelligence company Morning Consult, the top ten trusted brands in the United States for 2022 are:4
- CVS Pharmacy
- The Weather Channel
- The Home Depot
Given the crises of the past two years, it’s fitting that health companies make up four of the five top brands in 2022. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers had to take full ownership of their and their family’s health without many of the resources they previously could access at any time. With the stakes higher than ever before, people were only willing to invest time and money into products or services that they fully trusted to protect or improve their health.
This is an important factor when considering brand trust: the seriousness or severity of what consumers expect the brand to provide. Take, for example, if you purchase earrings from a jewelry company. If you spend $20 on a pair of earrings that break within the first month, you’ll be disappointed and might be compelled to leave a bad review. Overall, though, your health and happiness will remain unchanged. A brand like Clorox, however, is held to a higher standard. Based on their brand promises, they must be able to thoroughly sanitize and kill germs to keep your family protected from COVID-19 and other illnesses, not to mention delivering on its other everyday uses as a general cleaner, stain remover, etc.
In terms of marketing strategies and tactics, there are certain characteristics that most of these top ten brands have in common. To start, the words and phrases they use to describe themselves and their missions often include “care,” “love,” “family,” “positivity” and “responsibility.” Their advertising usually is void of celebrities, gimmicks or current pop culture moments and instead focuses on families, safety and satisfaction or industry ratings—some of the things that matter to buyers most. Additionally, these brands work to make themselves widely available, not just for certain groups or restricted by location or pricing. They create consistent, quality touch points throughout the consumer journey and reinforce brand messaging frequently, intentionally and honestly.
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The Importance of Trust
In the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, 70 percent of respondents said that trusting a brand is more important today than in the past—a belief that is shared regardless of age group, gender and income. Further, 53 percent of respondents say the second most important factor when purchasing a new brand is “whether you trust the company that owns the brand or the brand that makes the product”. Trust is second only to price, at 64 percent.5
As opposed to short-term sales goals, media attention or social engagement, brand trust is a long-term investment in your organization’s success. It might seem obvious, but the more that people trust your brand, the more that they will support and endorse it. That trust will likely develop into affinity and loyalty, and customers will be more inclined to recommend your products to friends and family. And that loyalty pays off: 75 percent of people with high brand trust say they will buy the brand’s product even if it isn’t the cheapest, it is the only brand of the product they’ll buy, and they will immediately check out a new product from that brand to purchase.5
Fortifying Your Brand
It’s easy to look at brands like Band-aid and Lysol and attribute their high levels of trust to size, finances and exposure. However, the good news is that any brand can gain trust by deploying the right strategies and focusing on the right objectives. Here are some guidelines for building trust in your organization.
Understand your customers
As traditional media sources have transformed in the last few decades, it has become increasingly difficult to predict consumer behavior. To combat this, it’s more important than ever to devote time and resources to understanding your customer.6
Ask people how they feel about your brand, what they want more of, what could be improved and what they need. Use data and tools to provide the right solutions and make accurate recommendations for them, not just the things that you’d like to sell.
State your capabilities clearly, then deliver on them
Meet or exceed expectations at every turn. Provide a product or service worthy of the cost you’re asking for, and with all of the features that you’ve promised.
Establish open lines of communication
Provide opportunities for feedback, questions and concerns. Operate quick and attentive customer service channels to address and remedy issues.
Be authentic and transparent
Tell customers where and how your product is made, how their data will be handled, etc. Don’t let errors or rumors be swept under the rug. Address issues directly and in a timely manner (with the help of a PR or communications team), and don’t provide indignant excuses.
Follow customers throughout their journey
People don’t like to feel that they’ve just wooed for a sale. Follow up afterward, solicit feedback and suggest other products or services that would genuinely benefit them based on what you’ve learned about them so far.
Support causes that align with your brand’s values
“As a result of digitalization and interactivity, today’s marketplace is filled with more knowledgeable consumers who demand more capable and conscientious advertisers and marketers,” wrote Schultz.
85% of people in the Edelman Trust Survey expect CEOs to publicly speak to one or more of these topics: pandemic impact, job automation, societal issues or local community issues.7 Partner or donate to organizations that represent your brand and show your employees that you care for the greater good, not just profits.
Prioritize quality, not quantity
Speed helps with convenience, but not with building trust. Create a brand worth a recommendation. Put systems in place to deliver a quality product or service every time. If something goes wrong, offer returns and refunds.
Keep the Conversation Going
If you want more insights on brand trust, identity, messaging and more, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications hosts regular thought leadership webinars for free on our site. In fact, you can watch Professor Jonathan Copulsky’s recent webinar with the American Marketing Association right now.
In the pre-recorded webinar, Copulsky talks about upskilling and reskilling your workforce to retain, engage and support them through technology disruption. They also discuss the importance of organizational congruence, how it relates to digital maturity, and some fundamentals and assessment tools for digital technology. View the recording on our site.