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Posted on Jun 18, 2012

The Value of Trustworthiness in Marketing

How do great brands become great?

In a recent study that identified The Top 100 Global Brands, the top five were Apple, IBM, Google, McDonald’s, and Microsoft. These are big brands representing big companies. No surprises there.

Millward Brown, who conducted this annual survey, lists reputation as a critical factor for success. As stated in their report “Consumers have little patience with brands – and corporations – that violate trust.”

While there is no single, simple way to build a great brand, the loss of trust is the quickest way to experience a decline. Preserving trust – and thus your reputation – is more critical than ever.

But is it possible to use trust to grow?

In one of the essays included in the report, marketing experts John Gerzema and David Roth, write “Trust is the New Black” adding “today, a trustworthy company has a 35% greater chance to drive brand differentiation.” Now that’s a metric to stop and consider.

So, what does it take to build a trustworthy company?

The Value of Trustworthiness

As a differentiating value, Trustworthiness means reliable; taking responsibility for one’s conduct and obligations; deserving of trust.

This applies to all aspects of a business, including: people, processes, technology, and systems.

For example, when you think of Google or McDonald’s, the essence of their brand includes all of the people who work there. It includes all of the technology and equipment needed to function, seen and not seen. It includes the complex distribution channel that feeds the engine that delivers our request – a search result or a meal.

Organizations that embrace the value of trustworthiness understand the buyer’s need for reliability. And when something doesn’t go as planned – as it will at some point for every business – responsibility for the problem is assumed by the organization. There is no passing the buck.

The feeling of trustworthiness is like a security blanket. It provides the feeling of safety.

We feel safe knowing the police are patrolling our streets. We feel safe knowing the borders around the country are being constantly monitored. Similarly, when buyers feel safe they demonstrate their trust by buying the organization’s product or service.

Now, for some this may seem basic. The old adage remains true: Do what you say you are going to do. Trustworthiness is proven over time and rewarded with loyalty.

But there are others who may have a hard time getting their head around this.  It’s just not in their DNA. These individuals can become a huge liability for an organization, if it values its reputation.

Beware the Power of Consumer Backlash

Some marketers and business leaders believe they can separate their brand decisions from organizational decisions. They tend to look at the brand under their influence as something distinct, almost esoteric and celestial in nature. This frees them to make business decisions in the absence of consumers and buyers. This is dangerous thinking because buyers – both consumers and businesses – don’t really distinguish between a particular brand and the company behind it.

Now, some might argue that consumers don’t know the companies behind many products. For example, how many know that P&G makes the Swiffer duster, Tide laundry detergent, and Crest toothpaste? The reality is the numbers are growing.

Through the expanding power of social media there is a growing trend in consumer backlash against faulty products, bad marketing practices, and selfish behavior. What is clear is that consumers are not ignorant about who is behind every product and service they buy. And these consumers are no longer remaining silent bystanders.

There’s the case of Johnson & Johnson offending mothers with an ad campaign for Motrin, implying moms carry their babies as fashion accessories.

There’s the case of consumer backlash against P&G for launching a new line of Pampers’ but shipping them in old packaging without explaining the benefits.

And there’s the case of a large company trying to take down a small company without any regard for consumer perceptions. Lassonde Industries, makers of Oasis juice products, filed multiple lawsuits against Olivia’s Oasis, makers of skincare products, over the trademark of the name ‘Oasis’. While the small company won the first round, including financial compensation for defending itself, the bigger company didn’t stop, believing it was right and eventually winning. But even though Lassonde may have won the lawsuit, the consumer backlash was severe, forcing them to reverse their decision. Lassonde had severely damaged their trustworthiness with consumers.

So, to address the first question: how do great brands become great? They embrace the value of trustworthiness, do what they say they are going to do, and carefully consider the consumer or buyer in all organizational decision-making.


What other ways can marketers help build a trustworthy company?

How can the value of trustworthiness make a difference in your marketing?


Today’s value was selected from the “Fairness-Respect” category, based on the e-book Developing Your Differentiating Value.