Is winning consumers' trust the biggest challenge brands face today?

Is winning consumers' trust the biggest challenge brands face today?
Is winning consumers' trust the biggest challenge brands face today?

With the general election at the top of the marketing agenda and the HSBC scandal among the brand crises at the forefront of consumers' minds, trust is a key issue. Marketers must strive to do more to connect with consumers and reassure them that they are authentic and on their side.


Celia Pronto
Group marketing and ecommerce director, Ford retail (Trustford)


Together with an increase in consumer access to information, and a willingness to share their experiences publicly, has come the expectation that brands be honest and transparent in their operations. At the same time, those brands that don’t meet these expectations are increasingly being exposed, causing far-reaching reputational damage. You only need to observe the recent scandals surrounding organisa­tions like BP, Tesco and HSBC as examples of this.

The recent recession has also had an impact on customer needs, as we experienced an increased preference for traditional, values-driven brands.

This combination has resulted in consumers becoming more wary of brands than they have ever been, but also developing a real desire to connect with those brands that do create trust.

It doesn’t matter how great the service is, how easy brands make it for customers or how much is invested in technology, brands need trust as a fundamental lynchpin of a successful strategy.

Giles Hedger
Chief strategy officer, London and worldwide, Leo Burnett

The biggest challenge facing marketing today is transparency of motive.

The lapses that dent a brand’s reputation or trigger a political rush to authenticity are not lapses in behaviour, but lapses in consciousness. People forget how far the consumer contract has evolved; that consumers demand to understand not just the value exchange but what motivates it.

What motivates brand owners, increasingly, is the rapid acquisition of customer data. This motive, linked as it is to privacy, is toxic to the very notion of trust, and brand owners need urgently to ‘de-stealth’ this component of the relationship.

What motivates political parties, increasingly, is the belief that specific policies can, if correctly packaged, achieve a victory of self-interest. This motive, devoid as it is of ideology, is toxic to the very notion of trust, and parties need urgently to rediscover ‘pre-transactional’ thinking.

Emma Woods
Group marketing director, Merlin entertainments

The underlying assumption – that banking scandals and slippery politicians have made cynics of British customers – lets us marketers off the hook too easily.

Trust is certainly central to any good business or brand. However, winning it is difficult, not complicated, and, although trust is essential, it’s not enough. For me, the biggest branding challenge remains the need to excite customers behind interesting ideas: ideas that meet genuine customer needs; that are authentic to your brand’s values; and that offer a clear sense of fresh, exciting and better opportunities.

Finding ideas that inspire customers and help them to live better, happier and more fulfilling lives is still the hardest challenge for any brand today. And crucially, it’s one where you must never promise something that you can’t deliver.

Heather Smith
Marketing director, UK direct, Aviva

Consumers are no longer passive procurers. They hear, see and share all – with the collective power to besiege a brand they mistrust.

The economic crisis fundament­ally undermined consumer trust in financial services institutions. Other sectors were by no means left unscathed. The regulators made it clear it was time to change. Around the same time, social media exploded, with sharing and user-generated content the norm.

As a result, brands found themselves operating in a goldfish bowl, with consumers and regulators – rightly – keeping a watchful eye. The general election could well be a turning-point in determining future consumer-focused regulation.

Building trust is a long game. Now is the time to act: if the regulators call for improvements, consumers will pounce on brands that don’t come up to scratch.

Harry Sheward
Managing partner, Fold7

It depends on the sector. The importance of trust in marketing is nothing new. However, it has recently become more pronounced as brands in certain sectors continue to give consumers reasons to not trust them. This is especially true in financial services and ‘brand Westminster’.

We have clients that can link trust to sales; one can even pinpoint brand warmth as the strongest driver for trust. When was the last time you trusted a bank or a politician? They consistently score poorly on this. With their increased transparency, it’s no surprise that brands like Aldermore and UKIP are cutting through.

Brands know they can no longer tell consumers what to do; can the same be said of politicians? At least brands promise something that might actually help consumers in their lives.

James Denton-Clark
Managing director, Karmarama

We’ve been obsessed by this question since brands were born. From political parties to banks, from energy companies to sneaker brands, from beans to apps that let you hook up and have fun times with other funsters. If an organisation or company is worried about a lack of trust, it should consider its actions – there’s probably a good reason for it. By definition, it’s letting people down and not delivering what it promises.

The greatest challenge facing brands is not how to win trust from consumers, but how to earn it from people. That takes brands understanding why they’re relevant in people’s lives and what purpose they serve.

The danger is that older brands get complacent and assume they’ll still hold that cherished position because they always have. Trust in itself can’t be chased; it’s the glorious resulting benefit of consistently meeting a person’s needs.


Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit


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