Trust me: Business can mend the trust divide

By: Brad Dodge and Andrew Pelosi

Lehman Brothers. Volkswagen. Deutsche Bank. Wells Fargo. Bernie Madoff. News of the World. Lance Armstrong. Toyota. Golden parachutes. Enron. WikiLeaks. Alternative facts. I could go on, but we’d hate to be a buzz kill.

Bad information, bad deeds and bad hombres litter the news and have all but broken public trust in our foundational institutions. For decades, the credibility of banks, newspapers, religion and government has been declining. Today, fewer than one in four Americans trust the government in Washington to do what’s right. And frankly, even that number seems high.

Trust is an important aspect of a brand as it influences the way consumers and companies do business today, particularly in high risk and high pressure industries, such as healthcare, finance and life sciences. Many people are working with less than perfect information and being asked to make decisions they are often unqualified and unprepared to make on their own. Potential customers need to feel confident they are making the right decisions for themselves, their families or their companies. And that confidence is rooted in trust.

In the absence of a clear and credible external authority, more people today are turning to their family, friends, co-workers and the shared wisdom of online communities for trusted information. Peers are considered as reliable sources of information (60%) about a company as technical or academic experts. From feedback and commentary to ratings and reviews, social sharing has established itself as a go-to source of information that customers use to inform decision making.

For business, the implications are enormous. Trust isn’t a “soft measure,” it relates directly to business performance. People support and advocate on behalf of companies they trust —they buy, they recommend, they defend and they’re willing to pay more. The study of trust theory has found three dimensions of trustworthiness: ability, integrity and benevolence. Therefore, the most successful companies are those that understand and leverage these components to drive trust, raise brand awareness, cultivate relationships and bring about desired actions.

With more people placing their trust in business over the media or government, business is in a unique position to help mend the trust divide. Making your brand trustworthy won’t happen overnight, but here are a few strategies marketers can roll out immediately that will move the needle in the right direction:

Integrate capabilities. Marketers need to take an integrated approach—combining strategy and content, PR and social media, marketing and branding, and digital and analytics—to reach and engage customers at every touch point.

Be an expert. Consumers need to have confidence that a company is able to deliver the services they’re promising. Expertise can be demonstrated through positioning, media relations and thought leadership. Developing a compelling and consistent story, one that is told through valuable, relevant content that contributes to the industry conversation and garners the attention of influencers, journalists and analysts, will showcase a company’s ability while enhancing visibility and credibility.

Be transparent. Consumers trust companies that are honest and forthcoming, and that provide accurate information. A strong and highly integrated social media program can engage your target audience across platforms with content that’s both substantial and personalized. These conversations let customers and prospects know that you’re interested in what they have to say and helps build trust.

Be caring. Consumers need to trust that a company has their best interests in mind more than the company’s bottom line. By communicating and acting with openness and transparency—expressing honest opinions, thoughts, insights and news—you will be seen as more caring and honest. In addition, writing with personality and voice will help establish an emotional connection, another building block of trust.

In an environment where trust is in short supply and customer engagement is spread across a broad digital ecosystem, maintaining trust is both harder and more important than ever.  Understanding the drivers and dimensions of trust will not only enable brands to differentiate their products and services in a competitive market but also do some real good in the world by standing for something worth believing in.

We’ll drink to that.

About Partners & Simons

Founded in 1989, Partners & Simons is a brand communications and integrated marketing services firm with deep domain expertise in healthcare and financial services that creates communications to help people make the most important decisions in their lives. Fluent in digital and traditional communications – from online, mobile, and social media to direct mail, print, outdoor and broadcast advertising – the firm creates integrated marketing programs that connect with consumers and business-to-business buyers in meaningful, measurable ways.