Four Ways to Build A Trustworthy Brand

Creating business value by building trust with your customers.

by Christie Chew

posted on 01-07-2019

Imagine if a financial manager asks you to pay whatever you think is “fair” for his services. Then imagine this same financial manager also gives you the option of investing in a mutual fund focused on environmental sustainability and social responsibility. You can make sure your money goes to a social cause, and only pay what makes sense for you and your budget.

It may seem like a dream, but this is a real scenario. Financial firm Aspiration has raised more than $65 million in venture capital after finding success by adopting a transparent, ethically minded approach to customer service. Fast Company recently named Aspiration one of the world’s most innovative companies of the year.

How to be that trustworthy business

Like many companies focused on customer experience, Aspiration is aligning its own values with the customers it serves. It’s paying off because, now more than ever, customers gravitate to authentic, trustworthy companies that do good for the world at large.

“Over the past five-to-ten years, people’s trust in government has been decreasing,” says Michelle Crozier, head of sustainability and social impact at Adobe. “As people wonder, ‘Who’s going to step up and protect us?,’ they are using the power of their wallet to demand that businesses share their values.”

Consumers’ increased focus on trust is pushing brands to reexamine the way they do business, from their supply chains and marketing to their core business practices. It’s a win for customers and, at the same time, creates opportunities for brands to deliver unique value and build deeper customer relationships.

“As corporate power, brand power, economic opportunity, and prosperity increases, being a consumer is a part of more people’s lives,” says Michelle. “They have more choices about where to spend their money and how much to spend. Consumers are ready to buy trust, and are supporting brands that are stepping up to protect our world and our communities.”

To be a trustworthy brand, most would agree it’s essential to start by safeguarding customer data. But don’t stop there. Customers want brands that align with their personal values. Here are four trust-building strategies to build exactly what the modern customer craves: a culture of authenticity.

1. Align with social issues important to your customers

Sixty-four percent of global respondents say they decide where to shop based on a company’s stance on social issues — don’t dismiss that. Instead, consider how you can shift your operations and outreach to better protect and benefit society and take a stand on social issues important to your customers.

When Nike featured Colin Kaepernick as the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” ad campaign, it took a stand on NFL players’ right to free speech — after his controversial national anthem demonstrations received national attention and even condemnation from the highest office in the land. But Nike’s decision to take a stand was an informed one. Nike understood its core customer base, and online sales of the brand’s gear spiked after the company launched the campaign.

2. Commit to sustainability

Thanks to the recent release of the National Climate Assessment that outlines the dangers of climate change, there’s an increased consumer focus on environmental issues. Millennials are especially interested in sustainability, and they reward companies with their dollars when they see them taking environmental stewardship seriously.

“People want products to be made with materials that are responsibly sourced and see that local labor laws are being respected,” says Michelle.

Rothy’s, a three-year-old San Francisco-based company, makes shoes from 100 percent post-consumer plastic water bottles, and their popularity is growing virally. The company sources fibers from recycled water bottles to weave shoes using a 3D knitting machine. It results in virtually no fabric left on the cutting room floor. Rothy’s also turns their old recycled shoes into carpet tiles and yoga mats so they don’t end up in landfills.

Many brands are also thinking about how to design their products to help customers meet their own sustainability goals. For example, Unilever thinks about how to manufacture products that help customers use less water, and Autodesk’s cloud-based Green Building Studio enables architects and designers to run simulations so their buildings can be more energy efficient and work toward carbon neutrality.

3. Take a stand

People feel inspired when they engage with brands that take their concerns seriously, whether that concern is for themselves or the world around them. To inspire customer confidence, commit to making a real investment in what your brand stands for.

A classic example of this is from 1982. At the time, Tylenol controlled 35 percent of the over the counter (OTC) pain reliever category — and, that same year, seven people in the Chicago area died after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules.

This immediately led to a public health scare and, quickly, Johnson & Johnson stepped in and stepped up. The company’s visible efforts signaled to customers that the brand was customer-focused and safety first. Johnson & Johnson recalled 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules from store shelves and offered replacement products free of charge. A year later the brand had regained the bulk of its market share.

“Even though it wasn’t a systemic problem, there was a safety perception around the Tylenol recall,” Michelle says. “Tylenol came back after two months with a tamper-proof gelcap and packaging to make consumers feel safer.”

4. Walk the talk of transparency

Not only do customers want more ethical, sustainable, and trustworthy practices from companies, but they also know how to track those activities. This makes transparency equally critical. Seventy-three percent of consumers say they value transparency over price, and nearly two in five say they’d switch from a preferred brand to a more transparent one if the opportunity were presented.

Since nearly nine in 10 U.S. customers say they want businesses to focus on issues beyond profit, show that you’re one of those businesses. Share your wins and tout your commitments, but be thorough and honest.

“Marketing is, generally speaking, a one-way conversation,” Michelle explains. “What you really want is a two-way conversation, with real transparency. Embrace forums where you can be questioned — whether in an annual shareholder meeting, when speaking with a journalist, or in more conversational or social channels.”

Customers reward the good guys

Deliver on customer expectations, be authentic, and take a stand — and you’ll be rewarded with greater customer loyalty and greater ROI. It’s an approach that’s truly been the “superpower” for brands like Patagonia, which touts fair labor practices and makes business decisions based on environmental issues — or eyeglasses manufacturer Warby Parker, which donates a pair to someone in need for every pair purchased.

Financial firm Aspiration is doing the right thing. Their “superpower” is that they’re fundamentally customer-oriented — customers can pay nothing if they choose, and Aspiration sets aside its own funds to ease customer concerns about investing. The company’s tagline, “Put your money where your heart is,” is particularly compelling as we head into this new year — a new year where customers are demanding businesses be trustworthy and make a meaningful commitment to bettering the world.

Read 2019 trends, predictions, and opportunities from

Topics: Community, Sustainability