Trust Is the New Black (of brand metrics)

How does your brand measure the health of your relationship with your customers? If you answered: “Satisfaction,” then you are not keeping up with the latest in metrics fashion. Trust is the new black of brand metrics, and here’s why.

Digital thought leaders are calling the times in which we live the Relationship Era of marketing. They reference the need for Trust Agent networks. They insist that brands must now communicate touchpoint by touchpoint, on a personalized, one-to-one basis, building trust with every encounter.

This is valid. This is not, however, new — at least to the world outside of marketing.

Building relationships the good old-fashioned way

As marketing continues the transition from mass, single message communication into the realm of customer-by-customer relationship-building, it is effectively embracing the discipline known in pre-digital times as Selling. Effective selling has always been about forging enduring, loyal relationships. Effective selling relies on relationship-building principles established long before the advent of digital life.

At its heart, relationship-building is no more than doing the right thing by people. When you behave that way over time, people grow to trust you. When they trust you, they come back to you and continue to give you their business. You have proven (especially on occasions when you have done the right thing counter to your own interests) that you are — among other things — honest, fair, respectful, punctual, responsive, diligent, and responsible. What you have been is the best indicator of what you likely will be. You have earned trust. You will enjoy the rewards trust brings.

If brands are to adopt relationship-building as their digital marketing strategy, the brand itself must behave like a person – like a sales person working to earn the trust of a customer. The brand must deliver on its promises as diligently and consistently as the sales person (and the organization behind the sales person) must deliver on his or her promises.

The socially-engaged customer and viral consequences

Once the brand stops behaving in a manner that engenders trust and starts exhibiting behaviors that undermine trust, customers will become less loyal and more receptive to the enticements of competitors. When ( in this viral, digital age) a brand experience does not live up to a socially engaged customer’s expectations, that customer’s Facebook friends, Twitter followers, blog readers, and fellow chatters and forum attendees all get to know about it within seconds. That’s not exactly healthy for the brand. A bad experience is bad enough, but if the experience constitutes a betrayal, then the viral consequences for the brand can be dire, sometimes catastrophic. Ask Dominos or Taco Bell or Tiger or any other brand whose behavior has contravened everything its customers or fans have come to expect.

Nielsen’s Buzzmetrics division monitors social buzz (or The Conversation, as they call it) for major brands. Nielsen reports that the #1 “buzz” topics for consumer-serving brands (fast food companies, cable companies, car companies, for example) are actually the good old (pre-digital) issues – bathroom hygiene in fast food restaurants, customer service issues with cable or telephone companies, product defects for the car companies.

Nielsen advises its clients to make sure that they re-engineer their business processes in a way that allows them to take (especially) the negative feedback from the buzz and act on it. The brand needs to acknowledge the problem, thank the customer for bringing it to their attention, accept responsibility for it, fix it, communicate progress back to its customers, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Just like a real person must do when they want to salvage or repair any regular personal relationship in which they have mishandled.

Why trust is the new black

Relationships can survive isolated instances where the one party fails to deliver on its promises. Brands cannot expect to sustain relationships with their customers, however, if they fail to correct problems and see news of that failure broadcast across the social media landscape from a growing cadre of “betrayed” customers.

And the new millennium has already seen a parade of betrayals by business, especially and most recently by iconic brands from Wall Street. The Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures the public’s trust in a variety of areas, is barely above the lowest point in the survey’s 10-year history. The US public’s trust in the business sector is lower than that of almost every national public surveyed. This is important because trust drives the kind of consumer/customer behavior businesses want to see (repeat purchase, recommendation, stock purchase) and distrust drives exactly what they don’t want (churn, negative recommendation, and stock dumping).

As brands embrace Relationship Building as their digital marketing strategy, therefore, they would be wise to study, embrace, and adapt the principles developed in the analog world of selling and behave like a real person. With that understanding, they can use trust as the metric by which they measure the health of their customer experience across every touchpoint. That is why Trust is the new Black.

–Roger Beynon, Chief Strategy Officer

Start Measuring Your Customers’ Trust in Your Brand

January of each year sees publication of the Edelman Trust Barometer.  It is a fascinating study that shows the degree of trust with which people hold four institutions – government, business, media, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

The report highlights the dramatic reduction in trust in governments, in CEOs as spokespeople for their companies, in banks and other financial institutions.  It points to technology companies as the most trusted business sector; it says that companies’ listening to their customers is the primary driver of trust; it speaks to people’s ever-growing trust in a people they see as “like themselves.”

Government’s precipitous fall from grace has left a trust leadership vacuum.  Edelman’s interpretation of the results lays out the opportunity to business to take leadership in the general trust-rebuilding process.  Of the 16 actions that business can take to build trust, that of “listening to the customer” ranks #1 — alongside delivering high quality products or services.

Listening programs, in which companies construct elaborate systems for tracking and, often, responding to customer feedback, are already in place in many Fortune 500 companies.  Yet how often do you see trust as the subject of a question in customer surveys?  Rarely, if ever.

Trust, however, may be the most powerful positive emotion a company can reasonably hope to develop in its customers.  Trust is a far deeper emotion than satisfaction, for example, and the behaviors trust engenders are, from a brand’s perspective, the Holy Grail of customer loyalty and advocacy.  Here’s an older Edelman chart that contrasts the behaviors people exhibit in regard to companies they trust versus those they distrust.

In order to build trust, companies must start by measuring it.  That would suggest, at a minimum, they incorporate a trust metric into their primary surveys, including those they deploy online.  The sooner that happens, the faster they can understand what aspects of the customer experience undermine trust and which enhance it.  Armed with that data, the trust-building process and the benefits it promises can begin in earnest.