Creating Trust and Loyalty for a Brand through Dialogue

Achieving trust and loyalty is critical for the survival of a brand. Creating trust in brands can be summarised as being effective, doing the right thing, and being efficient, doing the thing right.

Without Trust a Business is doomed for failure

There is both a business and moral requirement embedded in being effective and efficient. It ensures that a company’s stakeholders and customers are served well and that their needs are provided for. Trust is inextricably linked to the delivery of a promise. If a company promises one thing and delivers another it is doomed to failure.

Trust is also about building relationships. Can a company be insightful by seeing people as just data, segmented into crude groupings with superimposed attitudes and behaviour? Is this the way to build relevant and rewarding relationships? Many companies do and build successful brands. However, is loyalty compromised through this objective relationship and how much more successful can they be by building an emotional relationship between the company, the brand, and the customer?

Understanding customer needs is Central to a Brand’s survival

People are emotionally connected, responding to transparency and honesty. These qualities build trust and engender loyalty. Take the case of Unify, published in a Forbes magazine article. The software company based in Sacramento, California, was a hair’s breadth away from bankruptcy in 2000. A former CFO, Todd Wille, was called back into the company and had 90 days to fix the problem before the money ran out.

Wille put the focus not on budget slashing, though that had to be done, but on building staff and customer confidence through a dialogue that was built upon integrity and honesty. He appointed the head of customer service to the position of Sales VP because customers knew him and trusted him. He encouraged the sales team to call customers every week to hear their concerns and to ask for patience and to reassure them. In addition he asked his development team to produce new products based on customer needs gained from those sales conversations. Wille knew that understanding customer needs was central to the company’s survival. He turned the company around by listening to staff and customer needs and forming solutions tailored to satisfying them.

The resulting actions built a company that is now three times larger and has been rated as one of the world’s most admired companies.

Creating Dialogue through Social Media

At the centre of Wille’s strategy was an understanding of the power of dialogue, of getting people on side through engagement. He empowered people, staff and customers alike, and created an environment of trust.

I have no doubt that today Wille would have employed social media techniques to help him in his dramatic turnaround. He would have benefited from listening to the Internet traffic on Twitter and sent reassuring Tweets. He almost certainly would have posted a video to his customers creating a direct personal link, building integrity and authenticity, like Arnold Schwarzenegger did when Governor of California, in a shirt sleeved, unscripted video, to thank his followers for sending tweets on how to reduce government waste. This is the power of body language.

Building Brand Trust through Social Media

In a Mashable blog by Greg Ferenstein, he recounts how he sat down with the psychologist Professor Judy Olson to discuss the essentials of building trust with digital communications. Olson found, through her extensive research, that responsiveness is the key. In email, Linkedin, and Facebook messages much of the markers of trust, such as voice intonation and body language, are hidden. Olson found that when only text is used, participants judge trustworthiness based on how quickly others respond. For example, acknowledging a Facebook message quickly is better than waiting to respond more fully later; wait too long and you will be deemed to be unhelpful.

Social Media = Trust. Trust = Loyalty. Loyalty = Greater spend

When expectations are not met, it has a direct effect on customer spending and a powerful impact on trust. The need for transparency, honesty, and trust is essential if brands are to retain customer loyalty.

We know through experience and hard data that during times of economic hardship customers are less brand loyal. They will seek out lower priced brands with a return to their original brand choice uncertain, once economic conditions become more favourable. With a loss of loyalty comes the loss of referral.

In the 2011 Temkin Trust Rating, 6,000 US consumers were asked how much they trusted different companies. From the data 143 companies across 12 industries were rated. After the publication of the rating Temkin decided to “run the numbers” and analyse how trust relates to one element of loyalty: the likelihood to recommend. He found that consumers who trust companies are likely to recommend those companies, but they won’t recommend those that have not earned their trust. (See chart below from


Customer Trust by Industry Sector 2011 USA

Customer Trust by Industry Sector 2011 USA


In the Social Media era building trust is a multilayered process and depends upon the mindset of the company, its desire to anticipate need and with that its focus on customer satisfaction. The foundation for lasting success of any company is building trust between its customers and its brands and services. Dialogue is central to this, as Todd Wille demonstrated at Unify, as is the important adjunct to dialogue, responsiveness, as uncovered by Judy Olson.

These are the qualities that make social media a tool for our times, a democratic channel for a relevant and insightful dialogue. For many companies, it may be that dialogue is the only trustworthy currency in this turbulent economic climate.