Trust in How

Posted: October 11, 2012

By Y&R SA CEO: Andrew Welch

In media interviews it is often said that the question most feared by the unsuspecting interviewee is the simple ‘Why?’ Beneath its benign and familiar surface, lies a probe so searching and a trap so open, that even the most rehearsed response is unable to withstand such limitless scrutiny. ‘Why?’ very deliberately provides no safety net at all.

I often think the equivalent question for brand owners in today’s economic climate is  ‘How?’ In tough times where so much uncertainty governs daily life, customers think twice as carefully about the choices they must make and the brands they should trust. The issue for brand owners becomes less about what their brand promises, but much more critically, about how they deliver on that promise. While the ‘What’ remains essential, the ‘How’ becomes determining, because it is in the ‘How’ that preference is won (or lost) and trust is built (or destroyed).

Trust is built in the experience, never in the promise alone. Trust cannot be demanded, only earned. It is hard fought and easily lost. It is the currency of long-term customer relationships. And it is invaluable. For many brand owners, sustained success is proportionally determined by their ability to earn trust. And yet, ask most brand owners to put their finger on precisely how their brand delivery is different or better or more rewarding than, say, an immediately competing brand, and they are left grasping at platitudes.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the banking sector. Ask the ‘How?’ question to brand owners and they resort to product range or features or rates or incentives (back to the ‘What’ again). And despite great pronouncements around product innovation (which could, for a limited period at least, become a source of ‘How?’) I challenge anyone to name a handful of true innovations in this sector. Little wonder then, that despite great posturing and promise, brands in this sector suffer from a general homogenization and commoditization.

Future preference generation and trust-earning potential will only be found in how they deliver their (parity) products and services in a manner that is unique to them and is valued by their specific customers.

Brand owners in the sector might do well to consider a few critical ‘Hows?’:

First, that substance and authenticity are key to (re)earning trust; the days of marketing gimmicks and grand gesture are over. Marketing in this climate, is no longer about metaphors; marketing itself becomes the service. Banks need to demonstrate their usefulness and relevance to customers now more than ever before.

Second, that a bank’s service delivery will be the sole measure by which banks will be meaningfully judged by their customers. In tough economic times, ‘customer experience’ will be valued again. Human interaction will be re-sought. Local will, once again, become important.

Third, that this creates opportunities for banks to listen harder, better – in fact to listen more, sell less. As Dale Carnegie said: “You will be more successful by being interested in others’ success than by trying to get them interested in your success”. Humility and empathy will become precursors for banks to (re)earn trust.

Fourth, that problem-solving will win the day. Customized service models that add value will be key – me, my life, my well-being, my security – are all terms banks will have to embrace at their core to (re)earn trust.

Fifth, that any communication should be centered on a more responsible and reassuring approach that embraces some/ all of the following: simplicity, stability, responsibility, intelligence, security – what you might call ‘functional emotion’.

Lastly: that all of the above will need to be conceived and delivered in an integrated and consistent manner if it is to be credible or valued at all. The days of “marcom matching luggage” (i.e. all channels sidling up to each other and looking quite similar, but not at all integrated) are over. There is a new fluidity to brand’s relationships with customers, largely driven by the internet and customer’s unprecedented access to information. Each point of contact in the bank’s arsenal will need to be integrated and aligned to deliver a credible and trustworthy sense of itself.

Whatever the detrimental effects of our economic crisis, one thing is clear: they propel brand owners and their brands to change; how brand owners deal with that change is what matters. But having a clear answer to the ‘How?’ question, they must.