Declining Brand Trust: What It Is and How to Fix It
Mar 14, 2023|Read time: 10 min.
- Brand trust is the average customer’s willingness to believe a brand will deliver on its promises.
- Brand trust is declining because of the incredibly competitive market across industries, the growth in new and non-traditional competitors, and growing consumer empowerment.
- Brand trust must be defended and rebuilt if brands want to stand out. Optimizing digital properties and being authentic, transparent, and consistent is key.
Brand trust is the willingness of average consumers to believe your brand will deliver on promises and fulfill their needs. Based on your offering’s stated purpose, your audience (often subconsciously) performs a risk-benefit analysis and consumers decide if they trust your brand enough to make a purchase.
Brand trust, like brand equity, relies on the extent to which a brand lives its stated values. Brands make many promises while building brand awareness that must be delivered upon after a transaction. Gaining the trust of your audience is a make-or-break proposition for any business.
Brand trust can be positively influenced by delivering a high-quality product offering, and leveraging:
- Positive reviews
- Open and honest communication
- Customer service
- Cost leadership
- Philanthropic or social engagement
- Company culture
- Data security
- Time in product category
- Category dominance
- Consistent customer experience
Brand trust influences customer loyalty
Establishing trustworthy relationships with your customers is also the key to reaching the tipping point of customer loyalty. You need to gain enough trust to influence that initial purchasing decision, deliver on your promise, and do it again – each and every time.
Repeat customers are the people who trust your brand the most. Building that foundational trust is powerful.
Brand trust strengthens reputation and resilience
When you consider major brands, one important factor that determines if they’ll weather negative news cycles and reputation-shattering events is overall consumer trust.
The brands that consistently deliver can’t help but build trust with consumers, and when bad things happen, who are customers most likely to stick with? That’s right — the brand they’ve placed substantial trust in. All brands should strive to never betray their customers’ trust by living their core values, but just in case, the more trust they build the better their proactive defense against unexpected negative news cycles and market risks.
Why brand trust is shrinking across industries
Brand trust has become a commodity for hyper-competitive brands in just about every industry. In the B2C world, brands vie for the attention of millions of potential buyers. With such large audiences and many brands to choose from, it gets harder to stand out. Similar dynamics abound in B2B.
Here are a few of the top antagonists in this story:
A ruthless war for attention
Companies have traditionally competed for transactions. Market entrants offered their solutions to common problems and customers made purchases. This was the era of “If you build it, they will come.” That’s over now.
True market leaders don’t compete for sales, they compete for attention and trust. It’s a much higher funnel approach, closer to awareness than transaction, and requires a mindset shift.
But once you focus on attention, it’s clear that this is a ruthless battle. Competition comes from every direction at once, audiences are fickle, and nurturing attention requires both trust and respect for the audience and, critically, a real understanding of their needs. Interrupting consumers to grab “attention metrics” just doesn’t cut it in today’s rapidly changing digital marketplace, so brands must adapt.
When we talk about competition from all directions, what we’re saying is that many brands simply don’t have a handle on who they’re actually competing with online.
Take, for instance, Lowes. A cursory analysis might suggest that Lowes’ competitors are Ace Hardware, Valu Home Centers, and Home Depot. That makes sense. These three offer similar products and solutions. But when you dig into what consumers are searching online and the search results they are getting, things aren’t that clear.
Searchers are looking for such diverse things that at first glance seem unrelated, but actually are. Brands that don’t seem to be competitors actually are. Here’s why:
Take our Lowes example. Google users might search for “home renovation tips” or “bathroom reno costs” which are clearly home-related searches.
Things get interesting when you realize that while these people are searching for home topics, they’re also likely looking for ways to fund projects — home equity loans, for instance. Suddenly, Lowes and Bank of America (among other financial institutions) become attention competitors despite being in totally different lanes.
Our conclusion is that competitors aren’t just companies with similar product offerings. They’re also every other company vying for the same audience’s attention. From this perspective, non-traditional competitors for brands start to come into focus. Who are they?
Your real competitors are:
- Gray area competition — Explained in the Lowes example above, brands from totally different industries that, implicitly, are actually competing for the same attention as you. These (unexpected) competitors need to be considered as such. Don’t overlook them.
- Content hubs and publishers — News, media, and blog sites that cover topics related to your brand’s product or offerings. These steal vital attention with high-ranking content like listicles, guides, and news stories. Content like this sticks around, takes up valuable space, and saps control of your brand narrative and trust.
- Affiliate sites — Middlemen of the content marketing world who take away attention (and revenue) from brands. We call them ‘frenemies’ because they are a useful tool to push people to a brand’s offerings, but they take a fee and hold onto important online real estate that the brand could control itself.
- Social media platforms — Social media represents the “Wild West” of content marketing. With little moderation, less centralized control, anonymity, and a real problem with bots, this uncontrolled space captures a ton of attention.
- Review sites and platforms — Reviews are a major hurdle for brands, not because of negative reviews, but because anyone — trolls, bad faith actors, parties with vested interests, bots, etc. — can write them. Reviews, even unfair or irrelevant ones, are presented as authoritative, which can damage brand trust unfairly.
Consumers are more empowered than ever. They can hold brands accountable, and with more choice in the marketplace, they can dictate the terms of their relationship with brands. And while consumer empowerment, by and large, has been good, it has put added pressure on each brand to find ways to stand out and build trust.
With myriad brands fighting for attention, plus the ubiquity of non-traditional competition, it’s getting harder to truly stand out and get real attention from consumers. If you aren’t standing out, it’s tough to gain trust.
The shift towards consumer empowerment creates a few key areas that brands must nail, including customer service, curating a consistent customer experience, and delivering on their promises. These items, when left unaddressed, hinder the trust-building process.
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How to stop losing brand trust
Putting a stop to your trust loss to reach trusted brand status is important. Thankfully, there are actions you can start taking now. Ultimately, brands need a holistic approach that chips away at the problem of fractured marketing to build and retain trust.
Align your assets
The first stage of building a holistic strategy is to connect, optimize, and align all of your brand’s web properties into a connected network. Different properties (or assets) will have different goals, but the overall strategy is creating a network of assets that addresses the audience’s need when and where it occurs within the consumer journey.
Prioritizing the alignment of your brand assets ensures that your disparate marketing efforts share one goal and work together to support your customers at every point in their journey.. Creating consistent messaging across your online real estate helps educate, solve problems for, and ultimately, connect with your audience.
A clear, consistent, and cohesive message across your assets is also a powerful differentiating factor to help your brand offer stand-out customer experiences.
Own your brand story
One major aspect of brand trust is the brand story you tell. Your story or narrative is your brand’s opportunity to define itself, its vision, its offerings, and its promises. It’s also the most important part of connecting emotionally with your customers.
Without management and defense, a brand story can become vulnerable to hijacking and erosion. Your competitors want to undermine your narrative, the non-traditional competitors like media sites and reviews can damage it, and high competition silently erodes your ability to retain market share.
By taking control of your online assets, developing new ones, optimizing them, and consistently aligning this network of assets together, you assert ownership of your brand story. You protect your story from competition and the entropy of the market.
Control your brand reputation
When you heal your fractured strategy across your digital assets, you empower all other aspects of your marketing, you tell a stronger story, and you deliver better customer experiences. And you also take proactive ownership of your overall brand reputation in the process.
Competitors, negative news cycles, market conditions, and other uncontrollable factors can damage reputation and a brand’s image. The only thing brands can do is to prepare, and build a strong defense for when problems arise.
Having a fully optimized digital asset network solves this problem by:
- Pushing a brand-friendly narrative to the top of search results
- Pushes negative results down in the search results
- Shortens the lifespan of negative news stories
- Creates many brand-controlled channels to help you rebuild after reputational damage
The great thing about a holistic approach is that it achieves many of the most vital brand goals in one step. Strengthening your brand story through your digital footprint helps you connect with customers to grow your business and it serves as a powerful reputational defense strategy.
Other ways of building brand trust
If your brand trust has been eroding or sustains major damage, it’s of the utmost importance to rebuild it as soon as possible. There are several ways to do this:
Remind customers of your unique position
Assuming you already have a unique position, reminding your existing customers, stakeholders, and audiences of this position should be an ongoing process. Only the top few percent of the most loyal customers don’t need reminding. Broadcasting who you are and what you stand for helps across the board with building brand loyalty.
Some of the most common methods include launching promotions, using owned media or press releases about new offerings, email newsletters and sales follow-ups, site redesigns, and much more. Pretty much anything that points your audience back to your core vision and delivery of it is a great reminder.
Understand your customers’ behavior
One of the less accessible but highly important aspects of connecting with your customers is understanding consumer behavior.
Google can be your personal focus group if you know where to look. It can reveal what existing and new customers are looking for from the top to the bottom of the funnel. This data can inform a customer acquisition strategy that defines what story your brand should tell, to which demographics, and when (and where) it should be deployed.
Without this knowledge, unlocking the best possible brand story and content strategy to connect with consumers can be a challenge.
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Refine your brand promise and values
Brands can always refresh and refine their core values and promises. Sometimes your existing position just doesn’t align with your audience, or perhaps your consumers and your brand have evolved. This is common and happens for many reasons. Regardless, refining your values and better articulating your promises can greatly improve trust and customer relationships.
Practice authenticity, transparency, and consistency
A fundamental aspect of brand trust is the way your audience perceives your brand. This is obvious. But what’s less obvious is that you can’t just be authentic, transparent, and consistent some of the time — brands must always practice these virtues no matter the customer touchpoint.
From the moment a customer engages with a brand to closing the loop on support after a sale, winning brands tell an authentic story rooted in honesty and consistency. Trust will not readily develop without a consistent and comprehensive approach.
Deliver on your promises
You can build the world’s strongest brand story and content strategy, but it’s a waste if your brand isn’t delivering on those promises with its offering.
That’s why your offerings must be the quality your customers expect, but also why your position and story must align. Part of refining your brand values and promise is to tell a story you can actually deliver on. An exceptional product requires an exceptional story. The reverse is also true.
Take charge of social proof
Wherever your customers are most delighted with your brand, harvesting and repurposing this positivity into social proof is extremely important. Social proof is the combined narrative of the brand and actual customer experience, created by customer satisfaction.
Don’t squander this valuable resource. Tap into the positivity and word-of-mouth around your brand, use it to improve your offerings, positioning, and strategy, and make it known that people love what you do.
Turn customers leaving good reviews into brand ambassadors. Positive sentiment and testimonials from unbiased parties is a powerful psychological driver of increased trust.
As competition intensifies, creating a strong brand story is an invaluable tool in an ongoing and evolving marketing strategy battle. Standing out as the industry leader is possible with this story, a great product or service that delivers on the brand’s promises, and alignment across the brand’s digital infrastructure.
There are many ways to build trusting relationships, but the most effective method is developing strong and consistent assets that connect with consumers, knowing your target audience, and fostering the great experiences that bring customers back for more.
Brand trust FAQs
Brand trust is the metric that measures consumer willingness to believe that a brand will fulfill the promises it made based on the offering’s state purpose. Consumers, sometimes subconsciously, consider the risks and benefits of their trust, eventually deciding to purchase or not.
Brand trust is determined by several different methods, including brand valuation, brand strength, brand awareness, brand relevance, and analysis of financial data. These methods use surveys, focus groups, calculations like net promoter score, sales data, and more to determine overall brand trust.