This classic article is featured in Building Blocks for your Brand. The book highlights the core principles of brand strategy through our original articles that have been published in magazines, regional business journals, and international marketing publications.
Trust Me When I Tell You “Trust Me” Isn’t A Good Brand Strategy discusses the concept of creating a believable brand message that is more than a generic promise.
You’re in a store you’ve never been in before. A salesperson you’ve just met is in the midst of telling you how wonderful his product is. He makes a grand statement about the product that you find impressive, but perhaps a little unbelievable. You don’t say anything, but you squint a little, your face looks skeptical. The salesperson picks up on this right away, “Trust me,” he says reassuringly, “you’re going to love it.”
Do you trust him at this point? Probably not.
In 2011, the travel review website TripAdvisor removed its slogan “reviews you can trust” from its hotels section during an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after online reputation company KwikChex.com questioned its authenticity. TripAdvisor carries more than 50 million reviews of hotels, restaurants and attractions around the world, which it claims are honest and written by “real” travelers. KwikChex.com alleged that up to 10 million reviews were fraudulent, and that TripAdvisor was not thoroughly regulating the reviews that are posted.
Is anybody shocked that some hotels may have gamed the system by placing positive reviews for themselves on the site? Doubt it. Surprised that TripAdvisor wasn’t really watching? Nah.
There are countless brands that have turned to a “trust me” message for their branding, many of them thinking—with all sincerity—that they are, indeed, more trustworthy than their competition. Their best customers likely feel great about the slogan. But the chances are their prospects aren’t feeling it. Here’s why a “trust me” message doesn’t work in branding. 1. All brands are about trust. There are many definitions of what a brand is, and one of the simplest is that a brand is a promise. It’s a promise it will keep to a first-time customer to deliver a product and experience that is what that brand said it would be. For the existing customer, it’s a promise to maintain those same expectations. (Or even better, to exceed them.) So, to make a claim that “this is the brand you can trust,” has about as much impact as claiming “this is the beer you can drink.” We expect beer to be drinkable and we expect brands to be trustworthy.
2. Trust must be earned. We tend to build trust in brands the same way we build trust with people—it takes time. To trust a person you rely on takes multiple events to build that trust. The same applies to a brand. For instance, many people will buy a car and take it back to the dealership for routine service. Over the course of several years, that dealership has the chance to build trust with the car owner with high quality service, or to squander it with questionable practices that create mistrust. One oil change won’t create loyalty, but five years of good service will.
3. The least trustworthy people (and brands) are often the ones who talk the most about trust. TripAdvisor is just one of many examples of brands that claim to be trustworthy only to be revealed to be less than expected, if not downright dishonest. It might be tempting to counter a competitor who is claiming to be “the one you can trust” (therefore implying that the competition is not to be trusted) by making a claim of trust for your brand. But, as noted above, people want to believe that any good brand can be trusted, but that trust comes with experience, not with claims that could be empty promises.
If you still want to talk about trusting in your brand, you might take a cue from Hyundai. When the South Korean carmaker first introduced their economy cars to the American market, it had questionable quality and low owner ratings. The cars were not very well built or durable. Recognizing their shortcomings, they reengineered their manufacturing process to substantially improve quality and then added a 10-year warranty to all their cars that exceeded anything their direct competition was offering. Their cars were, indeed, better, and they were able to build trust in their brand that has allowed them to steadily expand their model line beyond econobox status to a brand that now offers $40,000 luxury sedans, as well. Hyundai didn’t talk about trust; they proved it with a better product and the best guarantee in the business.
Put another way, when it comes to trust and branding, it’s far better to walk the walk and skip the talk. And if you’ve read this far, maybe now you trust me when I say that. But I’ll bet you didn’t when you first read the headline.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal, the Reading Eagle and Lehigh Valley Business.