Winning trust

To win with your customers, focus on winning trust first

Creativity and innovation are the twin Holy Grails of our industry. And rightly so. Each has the power to transform performance and brand value. They are two important legs to an effective brand platform. But there’s a third leg without which even the most creative and innovative of platforms won’t stand without.


In a world where ‘truth’ has become equivocal, trust is reaffirming its rightful place at the top of the consumer buying agenda.

Trust is so big on our radar right now because it’s been evidently absent in the behaviour of so many seemingly respectable brands.

And when something is in short supply, it’s amazing how quickly it gains cachet. Brands that win and maintain trust are becoming increasingly visible as the ones consumers are gravitating to.

The sheer scale of corporate iniquity unearthed through the Financial Services Royal Commission caught the media by surprise. But many Australians had been harbouring a visceral sense that something was rotten in the sector for some time.

Measuring the gap between brand promise and delivery, DPR&Co’s BrandTrust Index survey on Australia’s Big Four banks in late 2016, produced results that were unsurprising on most levels, but perplexing on another.

At a transactional level, all of the Big Four surveyed positively – a factor reinforced through the banks’ consistently high Net Promoter Scores. Despite this, over 66% of Australians reported they felt their Big Four bank was out of touch with their needs. A similar number felt their bank’s promise of unswerving support would quickly evaporate in the event of a change of employment circumstances.

But it was what people said about their trust in banks as corporate citizens that was the most telling. Out of 1000 completed surveys, 700 respondents took to time to give voice to their views on bank ethics. Banks put profits above all else. The culture of the big financial institutions drives greed and unethical practices,’ ‘Bank profits are obscene!’ and ‘Stop giving yourself obscene pay rises.’ The ratio of negative to positive commentary was around 85%.

At the time, the Australian Banking Association (ABA) went on the offensive, talking up how ‘bank profits as a ratio of assets under management was a miniscule proportion’ and that ‘Australia needs strong banks to ensure a robust financial system’. But no one was buying it. The bonds of trust had been stretched to breaking point.

Fast-forward a few months. Careers are in ruins and there’s a very real possibility of criminal charges.

It’s not just the banks either. Even the philanthropic sector has trust issues. Perpetual Trustee’s National Manager, Philanthropy and Non-Profit Services, Caitriona Fay, tells us that the number of Australian donors is dwindling. ‘Trust is the biggest single factor for our clients’, she says. ‘Benefactors are less tolerant of self-serving charities and governance is becoming an increasingly important issue for people deciding who to support with their contributions.’

Our own industry has its own well reported trust issues.

So how do we respond in a consumer environment of diminished trust?

I like to think of earning trust as being like operating a bank account (forgive the analogy). If you’ve made hundreds of valuable deposits, you’ve got a bit to draw down on before you’re turned upon. So, ensure your balance is in the black.

There’s a simple test to ensure you’re on the right side of the trust ledger. Some years ago, a senior Accenture partner (and a client at the time) shared with me the filter this global giant used to assess the integrity of its actions. The first test was ‘is it legal?’, the second ‘is it fair?’ and the third (and perhaps the most tangible) ‘would you be happy to read about it in tomorrow’s paper?

It’s such a simple formula. Would any one of the Big Four banks’ senior executives been happy to read about an issue such as ‘fee for no service’ in a daily paper? Would any charity you know proudly trumpet that it delivered just a few cents of every dollar raised to front-line services? ‘No’ on both counts.

Remember also that it’s not just about doing what’s legal. A lot of what the banks did was within the law. But that didn’t make it right.

Then go to work on building your trust bank account. Not just by talking about integrity, but by standing for it. You’ll stand out if you do.

This article was written by Phil Huzzard and published in Mumbrella.