We increasingly do business with companies we don’t know. We no longer need the reassurance of an established brand, a physical presence on the high street, or even a voice at the end of a phone in order to become a customer.

Fast-easy-cheap seem to be the priorities, and if these boxes are ticked, we will happily buy from unknown suppliers.


That’s not because trust is no longer important to us. It’s just we’ve heaped the burden of trust onto the systems that underpin this online economy. For instance, we trust:

· Google to be a rigorous search engine

· Critics, bloggers and vloggers to tell us honestly what they think

· Positive reviews on Trustpilot, eBay, Amazon et al to be reliable

· Price comparison sites to marshal all the information we need

Beyond this, we trust contactless payments to work, the amount taken from our accounts to be right (so much so that 90% of us put any receipts we get straight into the bin), delivery companies to deliver, (with Amazon Prime that’s next day please) and we trust everyone to accept returns and make returning easy. Many of us don’t check our bank statements, trusting our bank to get it right every time and to warn us if there’s strange activity on our accounts.

Trust makes the whole system tick…indeed in this ‘done at a distance’ world, it’s critical.

You only need to consider the massive damage done to Oxfam, and the wider charity sector, by the Haiti scandal of just over a year ago to see how critical trust is, and what can happen when it’s lost.

I’m not saying brands need to be perfect or even remotely the best – but they do need to live up to the things people expect from them – the things they are trusted for.

Trump & Trust

For instance, Trump’s supporters don’t expect him to be anything other than a brash, opinionated, twitter-mad, deal maker; someone they believe will get things done. That’s why the various scandals which have beset his administration haven’t dented his core support so far. Yes, his approval ratings dropped during the US Government shut-down, but they have recovered since; his approval rating is currently around 43%. All the controversy and intrigue haven’t changed hearts and minds. Those who hated him before still do, and those who liked him before remain largely unmoved.

The things he’s been accused of have not undermined Trump’s core ‘brand promise.’ Indeed, clearly showing that he understands the ‘business of trust,’ Trump in a double-whammy has also sowed the idea of fake news – ensuring his supporters ‘don’t trust’ his accusers.

Whichever way you look at Trump – it’s all about trust.

So what does all this mean for businesses and brands?

The message is loud and clear. A brand must remain utterly true to itself. It must know what people expect of it and - at every touch point – deliver against that expectation.

Family Businesses

For instance, businesses that bill themselves as ‘family-owned’ or ‘family-run’ – need to be mindful that there are some very specific attributes people associate with such firms. According to Family Business Report people expect such businesses to provide value for money (51%) offer a good service (69%) and feel more personal (75%). People also expect family businesses to live up to certain standards, to do more in the community (44%) and embrace a clear set of values (49%) which drive the way the business operates.

People don’t mind family firms that are small, homespun, or idiosyncratic - they will accommodate these potential short-comings - but if the firm fails in the above critical trust areas - the family tag will count for nothing. It will be seen as an empty gesture.

Big Brands

Big brands need to be just as mindful of what’s expected of them. For instance, look at a brand like Virgin. The brand has made its reputation as a market disruptor. It has historically liked nothing more than to enter a market that’s dominated by a few fat cats and where it feels the customer is being under-served, and shake things up - think music retailing, air travel, banking. However, when Virgin has strayed into markets that aren’t like this - such as bridal wear and gin - it hasn’t been so successful. That’s because people expect and trust the Virgin brand to be a market maverick, and it wasn’t being one in these markets.

In short, whether you’re a big multinational or a small niche family business - I don’t need to see you, speak to you or visit your store – but I do need to understand what you stand for and trust you to deliver against that promise.

Who are your trust heroes?

Who are your trust heroes? Remember, they don’t need to be the biggest or the best, they just need to be the organisations or brands you feel really know what’s expected of them and work hard to deliver against those expectations…every time.

List your favourites below and let’s compare notes!

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