Trend 22: Increasing Importance of Trusted Brands

Jan 25, 2011 1 Comment by

Trust is an increasingly critical component of a brand’s success. Trust needs to be earned, can take time to create, but be destroyed globally within days. The age of a brand is increasingly irrelevant to its level of trust.

With so many different suppliers of products and services hawking their wares in so many different ways online, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed when it comes to selecting the possible suppliers from whom you would like to buy.

While business relationships grow or decline as a result of the success of the interactions you have with chosen suppliers, reputations and first impressions are critical in the short-listing and selection process.

In the traditional off-line world, the reputation of a business and the power and value of its brand or brands was important to its success.

In the hyper-congested online world, the magnetic attraction or pulling power value of a trusted brand is magnified enormously, as customers seek the security and safety of proven reputations.

With the global online marketplace available as the prize for trusted online brand leaders, the need to establish trust and then reinforce and differentiate on the basis of this trust is paramount as a marketing strategy. But many businesses ignore it, miss it, don’t know how to do it, or they just don’t get it.

Old Age Does Not Bring High Trust

In the off-line world, the age of a business and its brand was a major factor in knowing whether you could trust it or not.

Whilst age still has some importance in levels of trust, very new and young businesses operating with integrity and authenticity and interacting sincerely with their defined target audiences are seizing the initiative in the brand-wars and are winning as a result.

Age is becoming increasingly less relevant, and established businesses cannot take their ongoing existence and success for granted in the online world.

Often, successes of the past create weak spots for the future as established businesses become reliant on their old ways of finding, selling and servicing customers and don’t seek to sincerely understand and adopt the practices that build trust online.

Trusted Individuals make the Best Trusted Brands

Individuals can become their own trusted brands online. In fact, individuals are often better placed to become trusted brands than are companies.

This is partly because of the legacies and baggage a business invariably collects and allows to drift behind it in its wake, but primarily it is because the provision of helpful advice is often the key catalyst to forming a trusted relationship.

Helpful advice generally comes from an individual within a business rather than from a business. Thus, a helpful and wise individual has more chance of building their reputation – and becoming their own trusted brand.  Trust needs to be earned and given, it cannot be demanded.

Managing Your Brand

Brand management online is an emerging area of importance to businesses and individuals. Managing the online reputation takes skill, care, time, patience and authentic customer-focused sincerity in both actions and reactions.

Within businesses, new roles of Brand Guardians are emerging, with responsibilities to monitor, preserve and enhance the brand in the marketplace.

In specific online niches, the market leading trusted brand can have huge value, and the business can experience and enjoy exponential growth from their brand magnetism.

PayPal has become a trusted online brand. PayPal allows customers to send, receive, and hold funds in 19 currencies worldwide. According to Wikipedia, PayPal currently operates in 190 markets, manages over 223 million accounts, with more than 73 million of them active. In October 2002, PayPal was bought by eBay for $1.5 billion, after becoming the payment method of choice for more than fifty percent of eBay users, despite competing with eBay’s subsidiary Billpoint within eBay itself.

PayPal grew because of its simplicity, ease of use, flexibility, low cost and security, and gained the trust of users through its ability to reliably do what it promised. After eBay bought PayPal, its branding and related trust became even stronger.

The Growth of the Trusted Brand Monopoly

In another of the many paradoxes of the apparently highly competitive Internet, the growth of a small number of highly trusted online brands brings with it the possibilities of a virtual monopoly or oligarchy within certain niches.

Whilst not a monopoly, PayPal enjoys the benefits coming from its growing position a market leader and other similar payment systems battle to gain traction against PayPal.

New players find it tough to compete and can be reluctant to enter a market where substantial trust is required and the incumbent market leader already has established trust, good systems and a huge majority of the market share.

For as long as the incumbent maintains the trust and their systems, they tend not to lose market share – even if a new competitor offers a low cost or even free service to compete.

Only competitors with an already superior trust factor stand a chance of success, but even trusted players like Google, Microsoft and Apple struggle against entrenched niche market leaders.

Google Risks Trust by getting “Creepy” With Privacy

Google is currently playing pretty close to breaching the line of trust in various areas where it collects personal information both online and in the off-line world.

In October 2010, Eric Schmidt, Google’s then CEO and now Chairman, was quoted in an American magazine as saying that his company’s policy was “to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. Where that ‘creepy line’ lies on the spectrum of privacy and privacy abuse is very subjective, but as a stated policy from an otherwise trusted brand, it’s creepy and dumb.

Google has recently admitted that while taking photographs for its mapping services of the UK, its Street View cars collected emails, passwords and web addresses from wireless networks across the UK. Google apologized, claiming not to have collected the data intentionally, but it lacked sincerity and some damage, however minor, was done to Google’s brand. Even the globally well-known Google risks massive brand damage if it gets issues of trust too wrong too often.

What Online Information Can We Trust?

Users rely on information they find online from trusted brands to extents unimaginable just a few years ago. You never quite know how information online will be used or the damage an error may cause to the users or to your brand.  In a November 2010 issue, an error on Google Maps had the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica incorrectly positioned by 2.7km. The Nicaraguan army moved in, took down the Costa Rica’s flag and put up their own.

Trust is hard to establish, but easy to destroy, and you never know which trust-breach straw might break the consumer camel’s back. If significantly impactful breaches of trust were to occur and be publicized online, the news of these breaches could spread globally virally within hours or even minutes.

The more a user becomes reliant on a service the harder it is to move away from it, but Internet users as a herd could stampede away from, or over the top of, any business on the planet within days. Retribution from customers and vigilante hackers could be swift and savage.

The Arrogance Of Success

The behavior of some of the major global brands like Google and Facebook is becoming imperialistic, domineering and sometimes almost contemptuous of the masses they attract and serve. The Arrogance of Success of the currently trusted brands could be their downfall, especially if the trust of customers is ever grossly abused. Trust needs to be earned, and assessments of trustworthiness are now made very rapidly.

Are We Careless, Naïve or Just Moving Too Fast?

Many younger users do not seem to be conscious or care about the risks and threats from how their personal information may be used against them now or later in life. Some observers see this as a fundamental shift in how these users value their personal information.

This may be right, but I see this lack of care coming from the ignorance and naiveté of overly-trusting bullet-proof young people living in a high speed connected world they already take for granted.

Many have grown up experiencing many simultaneous deep online relationships coupled with access to instant information and an expectation of instant gratification. Any problems that could arise later in life seem a long way off from the enjoyment of today.

We need to constantly remind ourselves and those around us that trust must be earned and not blindly given, especially online. Building trust today is a key ingredient for achieving business success tomorrow.

Questions To Ponder

  1. Who are the most and least trusted businesses in your industry? How have they achieved that trust?
  2. Who are your most and least trusted customers? Why?
  3. Is your business perceived as a trusted brand?  How do you know?
  4. How can you improve your levels of trust?
  5. What could jeopardize your levels of trust? How do you ensure your staff don’t jeopardize the trust others have in your business? Can you control or mitigate those risks?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is the blog I was looking for! Thanks