AdAsia: Brand-building in a trust deficit world

03 Nov,2011

By Akash Raha

With a plethora of brands in the market and a cacophony of declarations from each, the result is a trust famine in the mind of the consumer.

In such a trust deficit world, the protocols of brand-building could be a lot more complex but highly rewarding. The panel members in the session named ‘Building brands in a trust deficit world’ helped navigate through the fog of distrust and threw light on a brand becomes trustworthy.

The panel members in this session were Robin Wight, President, Engine and WCRS; Vikram Sakhuja, GroupM, Chief Executive Officer, South Asia; Michael Boneham, President & Managing Director, Ford India; Deepa Prahalad, Author & Business Strategist and Sandeep Ghosh, CEO, Bharti AXA Life Insurance. Ms Prahalad began the discussion by asking the rhetoric question, how can a brand build trust in a trust deficit world? Trust is very important and it is not dead, but fewer brands are trusted these days. Some brands are struggling to build trust not because they are not trustworthy, but because trust is so hard to gauge and build.

Trust is not only about what is the brand giving in terms of quality of product and services but quality of a brands conduct and the causes the brand is championing. Mr Wight went on to talk about the psyche of the consumer and said that the biological purpose of a brand is to enable the consumer to make the buying decision with little mental effort. The brain really does not want to make any buying decisions all it wants to do is pass on the genes. The brain wants to do the least work it can do and hence a trustworthy brand scores over the others. If there is decline in trust, then there is a problem and the brain has to re-think about it. For example, if the brain had to think which mobile phone to take, considering the number of phones we have in the market, it will take it years to decide. Hence today, they use the web to make their mental effort easier. Engagement that a brand creates is very important, but what we need is not only engagement but peer to peer marketing which is so successful. Peer to peer marketing depends on building trust where the consumer spread the message themselves. He gave examples of the Coca-Cola advertisement where they reached out to 80 million people with no cost to the company. The message of the World Cup was spread without the company having to spend a penny and only through peer to peer marketing.

In recent times, we have seen a downtrend in trustworthiness of several financial service institutions after premiere banks across the globe declared themselves bankrupt. The consumer can’t help but question the bubble that the bankers create. Mr Ghosh of Bharti AXA life insurance said that there is a need for financial services structures to move away to the land of promise and begin delivering. It is essential to move from mere promises to real proof, where the spectrum of financial service provide tangible proofs and demonstrate trustworthiness.  He showed examples of two of their campaigns where they gave tangible proofs to the consumers to build trust. Such strategy of proof as opposed to shinny promises can work wonders in building trust.

Ford is another company which stands for trustworthiness and its case is no less interesting. During recession, Ford was one of the few companies that refused bail out, and such a step only build more confidence and trust in the brand. Mr Boneham  pointed out that since then they have worked very hard around that aspect and about their independence and walking alone. “We built and rebuilt our brand for what we were standing for. Under each of these we focused on what we could do to separate ourselves from others… A few things we then focused on was quality, green, safe and smart.” The company devoted a huge amount of time with the consumers to understanding their needs and what they wanted. And it is from this that they improved on the product and built up the trust quotient. We use consumers to build experience. Even in our ads we have consumers speaking rather than celebrities. We have focused on consumers talking to consumers.

Mr Sakhuja of Group M was the last to speak and said that the point in context is “Building trust in an attention deficit world rather than trust deficit world.” Commitment levels per se (of the consumers) are not really high rather, it is quite low. The consumers don’t give the trust away easy, but when they do, they stay with it… they are not as fickle minded as several marketers are. But there is the psychological equity to it. The question is that, are people sure about what their brand gene pool is? People are not building enough of core psychological brand equity. He gave the example of Nokia, which according to surveys still ranks high on the trust quotient even though their market share has dropped significantly. The entry barrier for phones has suddenly become low owing to the several new players that have come into the market, so people are experimenting. Yet there is the latent psychological equity to buy Nokia.

It is also essential for brands to have consistency in the messaging over time and across all touch point to create trust. The key is to keep the old and add the new… In the urge of doing new one should not discard the old value systems for the new. Moreover, for brands to be trustworthy, they have to be modest, even when they are doing very well because one never know when the next problem is coming from. “There are no secrets anymore… Don’t talk down to the customers,” said Mr Sakhuja.

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