I’ve been noticing a trend in a lot of the business articles I’ve been reading lately. See if you can spot it:
- 1/15/2013 Huffington Post/ Headline: How Can Big Businesses Build Trust in Today’s Environment?
- 2/12/2013 Forbes/ Headline: The Decline of Trust (and What We Can Do About It)
- 6/11/2014 The News & Observer/ Headline: CFO Survey – Lack of Public Trust Hurting Global Business Market
Why do you suppose it might be hard for businesses to establish trust?
Shoppers are mostly ambivalent on the subject of branding but I think it’s a matter of familiarity. On one hand, we respond to slick advertising campaigns with a mostly jaded perspective. If every product we’re sold on TV was really as great as the ad agencies tell us they are, the brand teams wouldn’t have to try so hard to convince us to ‘try and buy’! On the other hand, most of us shop in branded stores and restaurants and buy branded products and services. Even if we don’t exactly embrace the slogans and promises, in time we learn what to expect from these brands (consistency is key to branding) and the familiarity makes us feel safer. In contrast, I actually think that many small business owners stand a much better chance to engender trust but simply lack the training and experience to help unfamiliar customers trust us more readily.
That’s too bad – because I think that small companies might actually have an opportunity that big brands don’t. Big brands can only create fictional relationships with their consumers. Even in today’s world of social media and customer relationship marketing, do we really have a relationship with Coca-Cola (or any other big brand)? Ever try and have a heart to heart with AT&T?
On the other hand, small businesses absolutely do enjoy real relationships with our customers! Relationships are based on clear understanding, shared values, liking and trust. In our world, our customers get to know us as individuals. They test us in small ways and then they take larger risks with us when we win their first transactions. When we consistently perform at or above expectation, our customers receive confirmation that they were right to trust us and then they come back for more. These are the same steps that the big brands try to emulate using more sophisticated tactics.
What it looks like to combine trust-building and branding
I recently had the opportunity to work with a local children’s art school called Art Steps. They’d never done any branding before although they’ve been in business for over fifteen years. Their enrollments were sluggish despite the fact that the enrolled families were thrilled with the results their children were achieving. We showed them that communicating their uniqueness with more clarity could help them achieve their growth ambitions.
In essence, our work at Art Steps followed pretty traditional branding tactics. We led an in-house workshop that included their management and art teachers. In this work-shop we focused on how the team consistently delivers results for their customers. We also led some informal focus groups with Art Steps parents so we could hear about why they love Art Steps. These two activities helped us understand how the owner and employees saw themselves and also what their customers valued about them. We used the results to create a branding strategy that eventually made its way out to Art Steps’ target market – and the results were pretty exciting! These days, Art Steps is working from this stronger foundation which they’re using to increase their program enrollments so they can open new school locations!
Authenticity in branding
Great branding mines available sources to distill the truth about a business and then tells the story in a meaningful and memorable way that touches potential customers and helps them understand you in a new way. Speaking with clarity about who you are and how you’re different goes a long way to build trust. It’s one of the things I do best. Authenticity is essential. Creating a brand strategy that lacks authenticity is quickly apparent and any short-term gains in trust are quickly replaced with disappointment. Trust is easier to earn the first time and much harder to re-build later.