Trust: Earned vs. Promoted

There’s a credibility gap between most businesses and their customers. According to an Edelman survey done May- early July of this year, only 44% of Americans say they trusted business, which is down from 57% in late 2007. Companies are noticing higher customer defections, and not just because of the economy. What to do? An article in the September 28 issue of Business Week focuses on how companies are using “marketing” to try to increase trust.

What they really mean is that many of the companies discussed in the article are using marketing communications to try to rebuild trust. After reading the article I found myself wondering why these companies didn’t just try to become more trustworthy. Too many companies want to promote being trustworthy, without actually changing their behaviors. As my friend, the late George Nelson, used to say, NATO: No Action, Talk Only.

After reading that article I moved on to the October 2009 issue of Fast Company. The Heath brothers were discussing a similar issue, but with a different set of recommendations. They were discussing the idea that emotion sells products and services and this has been known my marketing communications experts for at least 100 years. However, what Chip and Dan suggested was that rather than just talk about emotion, why not provide something real to which the customer can attach themselves.

Their simple suggestions included moving from saying that using Downey Fabric Softener showed that mothers loved their children, to having Downey actually help struggling mothers and then showcase that in their ads.  They cite Tom’s Shoes as a company that does this. Tom’s gives away a free pair of shoes to the needy for every pair they sell. (Now there’s an interesting spin on BOGO.) The word of mouth they get from this program also allows them to spend materially less on marketing communications than do their competitors.

If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy, then talk about it. Or even better yet, let others talk about you. Simple.


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