Huddle 2018 - Content Hub

Repairing consumer trust in brands

A common theme in advertising at the moment is the breakdown in trust between consumers and brands. Our Huddle session this year set out to understand what psychologists and researchers know about trust and whether their research shines any light on how brands might restore that trust. 

Brené Brown (the Texan researcher and author, best known for her TED talk on Vulnerability) uses the acronym BRAVING to understand and to operationalise trust within a relationship. 

BOUNDARIES – Trust is present when you honour other people’s boundaries. If you are not clear on the boundaries, you ask 

RELIABILITY – Trust is broken when you don’t keep your word, and you don’t do what you say you will do 

ACCOUNTABILITY – Trust is damaged when you do not own or clean up your mistakes 

VAULT – At the core of trust is the keeping of confidences. However, trust is also eroded when others see you not keeping someone else’s confidential information to yourself 

INTEGRITY – You build trust by honouring your values. If you are publicly saying something is important to you, you then act on that. You choose courage over comfort in honouring these values 

GENEROSITY – You assume that people are trying their best. 

The Huddle session used this model to investigate our own relationships where the trust had broken down and looked at how we could use it to rebuild that trust.  There were lovely examples of how difficult things had happened, and the trust was able to be rebuilt because of courageous conversations around these areas. One participant shared how it was via a discussion of their different values that common ground was able to be found following different choices and paths chosen in life between two colleagues. 

We then looked at two brands who had encountered difficulty around trust – Facebook and BP were suggested by the participants.  We asked ourselves how the model made sense of this. 

There was spirited debate in the room about Facebook. Some felt that Facebook hadn’t been clear about their own boundaries around data. Other’s felt that they were transparent, they had kept to the law and that consumer’s boundaries around data had changed over time. Most people agreed that ‘Accountability’ was an issue. Did Facebook take too long to publicly ‘own’ any data breach. Trust may have been built by ownership of the problem much earlier in the process.  

We then discussed BP and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – also referred to as the BP oil spill, that began in April 2010. Helped by a client from BP who was in the room, we discussed how early ‘accountability’ perhaps helped BP to recover. They took ownership, sought solutions and paid the fines. However, it is worth mentioning that there are people who believe the company should have done more. 

The session concluded by discussing how communication is increasingly two-way between consumer and brands (rather than solely brand to consumer) and that understanding trust, from a psychological perspective, will only become increasingly important. 

Our new rules of engagement around TRUST for brands in the digital age: 

BOUNDARIES – Companies are transparent about what is OK and what is not OK. Equally, consumers will need to work out where their own expectations of brands lie and choose brands accordingly. There may need to be open dialogue between brands and consumers on this topic. 

RELIABILITY – As ever, brands will have to deliver on what they say they are going to do. Any breaches are now magnified because of the power of social media. 

ACCOUNTABILITY – We expect our brands to hold themselves accountable to their own high standards, and to ‘make good’ any issues. 

VAULT -We expect brands not to share our confidential data. 

INTEGRITY – Brands need to live their values, not just profess them as a PR stunt.  

NON-JUDGEMENT – Brands need to avoid the use of lazy stereotypes and labels 

GENEROSITY – Brands should operate with a generous, hope-filled and positive interpretation of their consumers. 

The question for consumers is the extent to which they also need to consider some of their actions and behaviours. If we truly expect two-way communication with our brands, how can we solely expect this high standard from them and not for ourselves. Is there a new wave of consumer self -retrospection about their role that is waiting to emerge?