Thanks to the digital era, a brand’s reputation has never been more important. Today, consumers have the luxury of choice in unprecedented ways, from countless food delivery and ridesharing apps, to social media platforms and mobile devices. In this environment, brands' core values play an ever-greater role in deciding whether a customer completes their purchase and returns in future.

For example, imagine a brand that offers fantastic products and brilliant service, but pays its staff below the minimum wage. Or a store that sells wonderful clothes –made in sweatshops that exploit their staff. Or a YouTube video showing less-than-stellar customer service getting far greater reach than any ad campaign. These cases have become surprisingly common, frequently hitting news headlines and publicly damaging reputations, value and success.

Business ethics increasingly top the list of reasons consumers choose to spend their money or time with a brand. Why? Because ever since the early 2000’s, consumer trust has taken a turn for the worse and appears to be continuing its downward spiral. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer shows that public trust has fallen off a cliff. And it’s not just brands, the Government, media, public figures, politicians and CEOs are have also seen a loss of public faith.

That's hardly a surprise given today’s political and media climate, where fake news and false promises are heard more often than the truth. The dishonest behavior of trusted companies or individuals led to the 2007 financial crisis, Volkswagen emissions scandal, the PPI scam and the latest tax avoidance scandals seen in The Panama Papers. Starbucks and Amazon have even seen a dent in their brand reputation thanks to their inability to pay the right amount of corporate tax.

Brands need to work harder than ever to convince consumers that they are worthy of their time and money. Given the abundance of choice, customers aren’t afraid to switch. Research from Accenture found that 54% of customers switched service providers in the past year, citing frustrating customer service as the top reason (64%).

Building trust in the digital age

Trust is the one thing that can make or break your brand, and fast. Look at Uber. It revolutionised personal transportation and disrupted incumbent taxi models through a simple app. Since its launch in 2010, it has completed two billion rides globally, has reached 83 countries and over 674 cities worldwide. That exponential growth in a short six years is the epitome of disruption. However, with a number of cultural workplace issues, exiting C-level executives and driver exploitation problems, these trust issues are having a negative impact the brand – and arguably the whole sector. This came to a head with the #deleteuber campaign, which is thought to have lost the company 200,000 users in a matter of days.

That’s why it’s never been more important to let actions speak louder than words, especially in today’s age of trust. When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took two months of paternity leave on the birth of his daughter in 2015, this was a powerful demonstration of the importance of family to the social media giant. Similarly, when executives such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, Disney’s Robert Iger and Intel’s Brian Krzanich, pulled out of President Trump’s advisory councils, it sent a message to their customers and partners that their personal values and that of their companies wouldn’t support the President’s controversial rhetoric and policies on everything from climate change to human rights.

So how can an organisation avoid damaging its reputation? It’s difficult. A crisis of trust can affect a company at any time, and from the most unexpected situations. How companies handle it is often the difference between whether a customer returns or writes the company off for good. That said, there are a few principles companies and brands should take on to mitigate any potential issues.

• Be open. Be transparent and honest in what you do
• Be simple. If you can pass the trust threshold, your brand needs to be simple, intuitive and immediate
• Be consistent. Not just in approach but in execution
• Be indispensable. Provide a service your customers can’t do without
• Be familiar. Be the brand that your customers recommend to others

These principles are not reserved for the new start-ups trying to make a name for themselves. It applies much more to the household names who have been around for decades, as they have much more to lose.

In the age of digital, trust, quality, service are marketing’s new Holy Trinity. If an organisation stays true to those values, then a customer’s trust will come and competition will continue to stay at bay.

 

By Adam Howatson, CMO at OpenText


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