How to build trust, win hearts (and boost profits)

May 1, 2024

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Christine Alemany reveals why building consumer trust is a critical factor in marketing and explains how companies can develop it.

Trust is the lifeblood of sustainable (and profitable) customer relationships. Unfortunately, today’s age of bias, widespread disinformation, and propaganda has created a trust problem for marketers. People no longer know where (or whom) to turn to for dependable information, and it’s only getting worse.

Per the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in U.S. CEOs is at 47%, and credibility has basically hit rock bottom in Japan (18%) and France (22%). A year later, trust in business leaders continues to fall despite the latest focus on purpose and ESG initiatives. In fact, the 2022 PwC U.S. Trust Survey found that 87% of business leaders think customers highly trust their companies when only about 30% of consumers do. That’s a 57-point gap!

Why is this important? Trust is a powerful motivator for consumer behavior. A 2021 survey of 1,000 consumers concluded that more than 80% consider trust a deciding factor in their buying decisions, despite the fact that only 34% trust the brands they use. Moreover, the downside of distrust is stronger than the upside of trust.

According to PwC’s 2021 Trust in US Business Survey, 44% of consumers surveyed claimed to have stopped buying from a company due to a lack of trust. 22% of employees have left a company because of trust issues.

 

A woman standing on a train platform in front of a train that is leaving

 

When it comes to building trust, older adults are more brand conscious, while younger adults are more process conscious. According to a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey, older Americans prioritize brand reputation and political slant when evaluating a brand’s credibility and typically rely on one or two sources of information.

Conversely, younger adults (18 to 34-year-olds) are more likely to gather information from numerous sources and place more of a premium on how open that outlet is with its facts, research, and processes.

One new layer is the increasing importance of price in building trust as inflation increasingly affects consumers. With claims around inflated corporate profits, consumers want the companies that they support to act in solidarity with them. A business that can be transparent about rising costs and potentially lend a hand by limiting price increases will win the day—creating deeply loyal customers and capturing market share.

Trust is not built on a winner-takes-all system. It’s an eco- system of giving and taking between brand and consumer. As marketing experts, we can apply these findings to develop credibility with our intended audiences as they age and evolve. Here’s how.

1. Do not overspin

Grandstanding on ESG without follow-through or substance is worse than sitting on the sidelines. During the summer of 2020, PR teams jumped to distribute public denouncements of systemic racism. But the public was quick to call out the performative declarations of companies whose public anti-racism pledge was at odds with former employees’ experiences, company leaders’ spotty track record, or lack of follow-through.

2. Avoid half-truths

In the court of public opinion, an omission is akin to lying.

 

Man standing in front of a wall

 

If a claim requires omission, then do not use it; and if you do make a mistake, own up to it. In fact, you may find consumers more forgiving if you show any semblance of contrition. Being vulnerable about where you have fallen short in the past suggests honesty, which sits at the foundation of consumer trust, brand affinity, and long-term engagement.

3. Read the room and adjust

Marketers should continually evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing efforts by asking these key questions:

  • Is our customer sentiment negative or positive?
  • What are our favorability ratings and how are they trending?
  • Is our audience engaging with our content?
  • Did we follow through on our promises?

By regularly checking whether consumers are picking up what you are putting down, you will find that you can more easily meet and even exceed their ever-evolving preferences.

The fight for consumer trust is ongoing — and it will not be going away anytime soon. In today’s age of distrust, marketers have to work harder to build brand trust. Savvy marketers who use authentic brand messaging will engender stronger customer relationships that stand the test of time. Implement these three steps to begin building a brand that people depend on.

About the author

Christine Alemany is passionate about helping emerging companies grow and scale. An engineer by training and marketer at heart, she is a senior executive with over 20 years of experience reinvigorating brands, building demand generation programs, and launching products for startups and Fortune 500 companies. In her spare time, she advises startups through Columbia Business School’s Entrepreneurial Sounding Board and is a teaching fellow at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center.

Christine Alemany

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