It’s important for brands to nurture trust, no matter big or small. In fact, it’s easier for small brands and can lead to significant financial benefits. Brand trust is all about credibility and integrity. Once you understand that you can build brand trust more effectively.
Trust is important in essentially all interactions in our society. Friendships are built on mutual trust because it’s a time-saver and simplifies many mental processes, employees trust their organizations not to take advantage of them so they can focus on their work, and consumers trust that brands will deliver on what they promise.
It’s therefore important to build brands that can be trusted, no matter if you belong to a multinational conglomerate, small local business or a startup. In fact, building brand trust may come easier to those working at smaller organizations. If you work at a smaller company then these are good news for you as there’s a direct link between trust in a brand and consumers’ intention to purchase and willingness to pay for that brand.
The implication for your bottom line may thus be quite significant.
In this article, I will explain why brand trust is important and what exactly it encompasses. Strap in, it’s a big one.
Why is brand trust important?
As already said, trust is a factor in all social interactions and therefore an important factor in purchasing contexts. Brands people find trustworthy are more likely to be included in the consideration set1Erdem, T., & Swait, J. (2004). Brand credibility, brand consideration, and choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(1), 191–198. https://doi.org/10.1086/383434 and are consequently more likely to be purchased, and to be recommended to friends afterwards.2Sichtmann, C. (2007). An analysis of antecedents and consequences of trust in a corporate brand. European Journal of Marketing, 41(9–10), 999–1015. https://doi.org/10.1108/03090560710773318
Continuing this line of thought, there is no surprise that 81% of global consumers think that trust is important in buying situations according to a survey of nearly 25,000 people in the US, UK, Japan, Germany, France, India, China and Brazil.3Edelman. (2019). In Brands we trust. In Edelman Trust Barometer 2019. https://www.edelman.de/en/research/2019-edelman-trust-barometer Only 34% of respondents, however, state that they trust most of the brands they use.
A later study of 36,000 consumers across 28 countries reports that 51% of respondents don’t trust CEOs and that alarmingly 63% worry that business leaders are misleading people on purpose by publicly claiming things they know for a fact to be false, or by using flagrant exaggerations.4Edelman. (2022). Edelman Trust Barometer 2022. In World Cement.
It seems that people truly value trust but are finding it hard to place trust in brands. The good news is that for you, as a marketer or owner in a smaller brand, building trust may come easier as you will have an easier job of coming across as genuine and authentic compared to large multinationals driven by the burden of infinite growth for shareholders at all costs.
Bottom line; brand trust is important to consumers as they allow them to make easier decisions with peace of mind. As a consequence, establishing trust is of the utmost importance to brands as it allows them to enter consideration sets, get purchased, and recommended to peers.
What exactly is brand trust?
When you google brand trust, many articles you will see treat trust with ambiguity. Rather than explaining what trust is in precise manner it’s described by the many elements that affect it. Though I wouldn’t call this approach wrong, it is a bit shallow and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. If you want to be truly strategic in your marketing efforts, and by doing so ultimately more profitable, I’d recommend a closer look.
The fundamentals of brand trust
When stripped down to its fundamentals, brand trust is all about two things: credibility and integrity.
Credibility is all about being honest in setting expectations and then meeting those expectations.5Morhart, F., Malär, L., Guèvremont, A., Girardin, F., & Grohmann, B. (2015). Brand authenticity: An integrative framework and measurement scale. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(2), 200–218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2014.11.006.
See also Sichtman (2007) and Erdem & Swait (2004) This requires the competence to be able to do so. Consider a local burger joint that advertises “fresh and crispy fries” on a small billboard outside the venue. However, customers repeatedly experience that the fries are in fact cold and soggy.
One of two scenarios can be at play here. First, the owner of the burger joint may be aware that the fries are not fresh and crispy and is purposefully misleading customers. Second, the intentions may be genuine but the competence to fulfill the set expectations is lacking. Both scenarios will discredit the brand and undermine its trustworthiness, intentional or not, as people wanting crispy fries will not trust the burger joint to give them what they want.
Integrity is more altruistic and considers the brand’s morals. People judge a brand’s integrity based on its commitment to appropriate social values, whether it truly and sincerely cares about its customers’ well-being, and its track record of demonstrating that care and living up to its espoused values.6ibid. Brands are often caught out in this domain pretending to care about prominent issues when its dead obvious that the only thing they truly care about are their own bottom lines. An occurrence so that it’s been awarded its own name: Woke Washing.
In sum, there are two routes to brand trust. One — credibility — is more functional and tangible, and is mainly associated with cognitive areas in the brain whereas the other —integrity — is more altruistic, intangible, and bound to the more emotional areas of the brain.7Dimoka, A. (2010). What does the brain tell us about trust and distrust? evidence from a functional neuroimaging study. MIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems, 34(SPEC. ISSUE 2), 373–396. https://doi.org/10.2307/20721433
It’s nevertheless rare that these two routes operate independently. Trust is usually built (or destroyed) on both credibility and integrity. Continuing the example from before, should the owner be purposefully misleading consumers, distrust is likely to be both because of lack of credibility and integrity as cheating people is in contrast to most social values.
Is one more important than the other?
It’s a good question to ask, and the answer is: probably yes. I would at least always start out with the assumption that credibility is more important and then adjust that view as new information becomes available.
When we trust something, our brains activate the reward system.8ibid. For example, considering our favorite restaurant to soothe a craving for delicious pasta will have us thinking of the reward — the delicious pasta meeting our expectations — because we know the restaurant will not disappoint as we perceive it to be credible. If we couldn’t find anything credible at this time our brain might in contrast activate a region in the brain associated with fear of loss and distrust9ibid. as without credibility we might focus more on getting value for our money or worse; a disappointing taste experience and unfulfilled craving.
On a side note, this also explains why some purchase decisions are low involvement but others high involvement.
Most people will first think about the more functional aspect related to meeting their expectations before considering any altruistic aspects in a transaction. As another example, you would likely first make sure that a new car meets all your practical expectations such as mileage, durability, and so on; before thinking about purchasing it from a brand you believed to have a high degree of integrity. And even if you would do it the other way around you likely would not give up on credibility. Toney Chocolonely most definitely earns most of its awareness and image benefits from integrity and altruism, but if in the end the brand wouldn’t deliver tasty slave free chocolate despite its intentions to do so, the brand would not be as popular as it is today.
How to build brand trust
Now that I’ve covered the fundamentals, we can get down to the factors that influence brand trust. We can split those factors into two categories. First, the operational factors that have to do with how you run your brand and do everyday business. You can leverage operational factors to build brand trust.
Second are situational factors that work for the most part out of your area of influence. These require a very long time and sizeable investments to impact. Though they are hard to impact, you still may be able leverage them to build brand trust.
Your first thought should be concerned with building credibility and integrity. As I’ve covered these are the fundamentals of brand trust. You see in the image above how eight out of the ten drivers of brand trust can easily be categorized as integrity or credibility.
As a consequence, to build brand trust via integrity you should:
- Respect and protect your customers’ data, privacy and security.
- Treat your customers well, even through challenging economic cycles.
- Price your products fairly. It’s perhaps a stretch to call value for money an integrity attribute but it does show that you care about your customers.
Likewise to build brand trust via credibility, make sure that you:
- Possess the capability to make quality products.
- Don’t make promises you are not likely to keep.
- Be honest when advertising your products or services.
- Be reliable and dependable and there when customers need you.
A lot of the above comes down to managing expectations, but there are still a few more ways for you to build trust in your brand.
Be genuine and authentic
A lot of brands claim to be authentic but few really are. Authenticity and trust are heavily correlated10Morhart et al. 2015
Moulard, J. G., Raggio, R. D., & Folse, J. A. G. (2016). Brand Authenticity: Testing the Antecedents and Outcomes of Brand Management’s Passion for its Products. Psychology and Marketing, 33(6), 421–436. https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.20888 meaning authenticity will also build trust. Good news here is that is is much easier to come across authentic when you are small versus when you are a national or multinational corporation.
Honor your roots
Brands that stick to their roots and cultivate the brand heritage tend to be trusted more. 11Napoli, J., Dickinson, S. J., Beverland, M. B., & Farrelly, F. (2014). Measuring consumer-based brand authenticity. Journal of Business Research, 67(6), 1090–1098. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2013.06.001 Stick to your principles and refuse to compromise on the values upon the brand was founded. Even better if you can build on traditions that began with the founder. Doing so will increase integrity perceptions and and doing so increase brand trust.
Treating customers, partners and other stakeholders you engage with while operating your business fairly and without any opportunistic intentions will have a substantial impact on how people perceive your brand in terms of both integrity and credibility. This means not pressuring people to do anything, don’t mislead and don’t manipulate.
Help customers develop
Lastly, helping your consumers develop through your interactions will increase both credibility and integrity, and subsequently brand trust. This is called a developmental interaction capability, i.e., the capability to help customers develop. You form this ability by sharing useful information with your customers and helping them become more knowledgeable, giving advise to help them use your products and services to the best outcome, and overall offering your expertise for them to learn from.12Karpen, I. O., Bove, L. L., Lukas, B. A., & Zyphur, M. J. (2015). Service-dominant orientation: Measurement and impact on performance outcomes. Journal of Retailing, 91(1), 89–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jretai.2014.10.002
Sometimes you’ve got to work with the cards you’ve been dealt. This can pose opportunities but may also be troublesome. I won’t spend as much time on covering this but there are a few things that are useful to know.
Just a few situational factors here to highlight:
- Small businesses tend to be trusted more than corporations
- Small businesses tend to be trusted more than global corporations
- Few people place a lot of trust in social media
- Online-only companies are trusted less than their fellow brick and mortar establishments (we can assume)
Consider these your boundary situations. If you are are small business in the UK, you are at a significant advantage to build trust compared to a major global corporation. If on the other hand you are in China, you will have to work much harder on the variables in your control to build trust as you will not change the sentiment of an entire industry, not even if you work in a major corporation.
Similarly, a social media business in Canada will by default experience distrust. You will not change that as its the sentiment of an industry in an entire country. But you can slowly but surely build trust in your own brand by proving the stereotypical sentiment to be wrong.
In this article, I have covered the fundamentals of brand trust and why its important. I’ve also given advice on how to go about building trust using your knowledge of the fundamentals and your specific context. Keep in mind that changes don’t happen overnight — it takes time to influence consumer perceptions. Be strategic about what makes sense for you to do given your own situation.
If you found this article useful and would like my to write a similar article on another topic, send me a message and let me know. Likewise if you want to give feedback or disagree with anything I’ve written here then I would like to hear your point of view. After all the entire point of this website is to make marketing just a little easier for those who don’t have the budget for fancy agencies or the time to get into thorough research on every aspect of their marketing operations.
- 1Erdem, T., & Swait, J. (2004). Brand credibility, brand consideration, and choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(1), 191–198. https://doi.org/10.1086/383434
- 2Sichtmann, C. (2007). An analysis of antecedents and consequences of trust in a corporate brand. European Journal of Marketing, 41(9–10), 999–1015. https://doi.org/10.1108/03090560710773318
- 3Edelman. (2019). In Brands we trust. In Edelman Trust Barometer 2019. https://www.edelman.de/en/research/2019-edelman-trust-barometer
- 4Edelman. (2022). Edelman Trust Barometer 2022. In World Cement.
- 5Morhart, F., Malär, L., Guèvremont, A., Girardin, F., & Grohmann, B. (2015). Brand authenticity: An integrative framework and measurement scale. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(2), 200–218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2014.11.006.
See also Sichtman (2007) and Erdem & Swait (2004)
- 7Dimoka, A. (2010). What does the brain tell us about trust and distrust? evidence from a functional neuroimaging study. MIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems, 34(SPEC. ISSUE 2), 373–396. https://doi.org/10.2307/20721433
- 10Morhart et al. 2015
Moulard, J. G., Raggio, R. D., & Folse, J. A. G. (2016). Brand Authenticity: Testing the Antecedents and Outcomes of Brand Management’s Passion for its Products. Psychology and Marketing, 33(6), 421–436. https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.20888
- 11Napoli, J., Dickinson, S. J., Beverland, M. B., & Farrelly, F. (2014). Measuring consumer-based brand authenticity. Journal of Business Research, 67(6), 1090–1098. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2013.06.001
- 12Karpen, I. O., Bove, L. L., Lukas, B. A., & Zyphur, M. J. (2015). Service-dominant orientation: Measurement and impact on performance outcomes. Journal of Retailing, 91(1), 89–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jretai.2014.10.002