Brands think, customers feel


Brands think, customers feel

Establishing and retaining trust is foundational to the success of any relationship, including the relationship between a brand and its customers.  Trust is essential, yet, brands and their customers often tend to view trust from different vantage points.  Brands reflect on the nature of trust rationally, in which they consider trust as one of the variables included in their business model. In thinking about trust, the brands strategically consider how things such as customer testimonials, online ratings, and positive brand messaging can contribute to brand trust.

When examining trust with an analytic business bias, we tend to think of trust from a cognitive perspective.  Cognition is the cool analytic thinking processes that is critical to the success of running a brand and business.  However, using this decision heuristic comes with consequences.  Namely, as a brand manager we think of the components of trust - competence and reliability – and develop messaging that seeks to reinforce these aspects of trust.  We may ask questions such as “How do we communicate to customers that they can trust our product because it is of high quality and will last a long time?” or “What features will demonstrate to people they can trust the product?”

When forming brand strategies based on cognition, we tend to rely upon knowledge-based approaches that inform and reduce uncertainty. The thinking behind knowledge enhancing messages is that people will form a greater bond of trust if they know more about the brand and its offerings.  Consider recent marketing efforts aimed at you that have sought to inform you.  Likely, these campaigns were aimed at conveying that you could trust the brand because they provide a robust capacity.

While trust strategies derived from rational thinking can undoubtedly benefit a brand, it can lead to overlooking a key means by which people form trust through emotions. Professor Paul Ingram of Columbia Business School, who studies trust in social networks has noted: “we tend to reserve trust from the heart (affect-based trust) for family and friends and trust from the head (cognition-based trust) for business partners.”  Brain science informs us that signals to your brain pass the limbic system - where you feel - before arriving at the rational part of your mind where you think.  In other words, your brand experience is emotional before it is rational.

A central feature of trust is the willingness to make yourself vulnerable to others.  Being vulnerable is about emotion.  There is a risk in extending yourself to others which stirs the emotions of fear and hope.  Affect-based trust is formed when the audience has an emotional connection to the brand.  When forming brand strategies based on affect, research suggests that reaching the audience through referrals or third-party endorsements are an effective approach (Kim 2005) because it makes people feel confident when considering brands from trusted or unbiased sources.

This contrast of feeling versus thinking trust is captured in a recent commercial by Intel in which it found inspiration in the words and music of Supertramp. The song reminds us that while we have been taught to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical, dependable, clinical, and intellectual, there is magic in the unbelievable, in singing so happily.

Trust is important when people consider buying products.  In developing your brand trust strategies keep in mind that both the heart and the head are drawn upon when forming trust. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, visit America’s Most Trusted, our brand research and insights program. Or, consider contacting us directly to learn how we can support your organization.