By Dan Izbicki Brand trust and its demise has been a familiar topic of late. First it was our institutions (“Kelloggs trusted more than the government”), then it was the banks (“Marketing to blame for lack of trust in banks”). More recently it's been the turn of the media (Leverson and the Jimmy Saville scandal), sport's stars (Lance Armstrong), tax-evaders (Starbucks and Amazon), the food industry (Tesco and horse meat) and the data-hoarders (Facebook, Google et al).
A vast number of column inches have sought to provide the marketing community lessons from these events. No doubt millions of research pounds have been spent assessing brands trust indices. So what has been our collective response? Well putting Lance Armstrong's demise aside, not a great deal. We're still living in a country run by untrusted politicians, our money stashed away in our dishonourable banks, watching the news from the discredited BBC, ordering our coffee from the disreputable Starbucks, spending our money in the disgraced Tesco and telling everyone about it via the devious Facebook. Now there is an element of facetiousness in these remarks. Trust is important, indeed it's partly the reason why these brands have managed to survive their various catastrophes, although ambivalence is undoubtedly the greater force at play. We've certainly learnt that telling a lie is a bad thing and that being honest is good, but hopefully that's something you learnt from your parents before the age of five.
As insights go, the concept of “people buy from brands they trust” is not very insightful and increasingly irrelevant. Brand trust metrics are another of those deeply unhelpful theoretical concepts in an industry awash with its fair share of unhelpful theoretical concepts. Trust is about believability and in a consumer arena made transparent by online connectivity, there is no hiding place for brands that fail to deliver. As Dietrich Mateschitz, the founder of Red Bull states “the best marketing strategy and the highest marketing budget in the world cannot win back a disappointed consumer. Long term success is based on product quality”.
The issue with trust is that it's another of those words that implies a deep emotional relationship between brands and consumers (alongside relationship, love, fans, commitment and engagement). A nice theory but once again a concept that is neither helpful nor true. As Byron Sharp has demonstrated in his excellent book How Brands Grow most people neither care that much about brands or know that much about them. Our task as marketers is largely about overcoming indifference.
So what might be a more useful concept that trust? After-all we do love a bite-sized objective. Recently I was involved in piece of research looking at online-purchasing for an established brand in the finance sector. It certainly wasn't a high-interest category and we'd assumed the issue of trust and security would be a key driver. But the truth is trustability was a given. A hygeine factor. What fool would launch a product or service that couldn't be trusted? After all we'd soon find out whether this was a product that didn't work. When consumers expressed an opinion it was driven by something else altogether - the issue of simplicity – just make it a bit easier for me.
In a world of ever more choice across ever more platforms, the job of the marketeer must be to make their customer's lives that little bit easier. Undoubtedly distribution is a key element of that simplicity. We still partly visit Tesco and Starbucks because they're just there. But it must also be an integral part of the product design. Google wasn't the first search engine and Facebook wasn't the first social network, but they made it all effortless.
Perhaps most importantly, the Harvard Business Review has identified it is a quality that customers are willing to pay a premium for. As their report states, in response to the proliferation of choice “companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. [Our research shows] the single biggest driver of stickiness, by far, was “decision simplicity”—the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options. What consumers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity.”
But away from the theory, most exciting is the simple fact that there are still so many opportunities. Having spent much of my career working on telco brands (and having my bill paid by the company) I recently had to purchase my first ever contract. It remains a world of unfathomable complexity. How am I possibly supposed to know how many text, minutes or gigabytes I will use in a month? And how does being forced to know make me feel about my operator? Finance remains another sector that has consistently remained unwilling to simplify the decision process for its customers. Which is why nutmeg.com seems such a breath of fresh air. The list goes on. The automobile industry seems particularly at fault in this regard, mostly working on the assumption that everyone, like them, is a petrol head. Whereas for a vast swathe of people they simply want to be told what's best for them and their lifestyle. Other categories – wine and whisky spring to mind – wallow in the complexity and confusion of their products, an appealing trait if you're a connoisseur but deeply off- putting if you're looking to attract new consumers. Which is why House Wine is an interesting concept. Even the technology industry, which so often claims to have the user experience at the heart of their thinking, can fall foul of the simplicity mantra. We recently left house instructions for some friends who were coming to stay at our home whilst we were away. Most of the instructions were taken up with how to turn on our TV! It's one of those slightly disturbing occasions where I've found myself agreeing with Prince Philip.
There is no escaping the fact that, whilst the digital age has brought businesses and customers huge transactional benefits, it hasn't always made the purchase process simpler. Which is one of the reasons why Amazon thrives, with it's obsession in making the process as effortless as possible. These days I know that, with a bit of research, I can make my purchases cheaper than Amazon. But with 1-click, pre-installed delivery addresses and guaranteed delivery times, I simply can't be bothered to look around. It's a lesson the travel industry could do well to learn with recent data showing the process of choosing a holiday now takes an average of 32 weeks to plan, an interminably prolonged process and significantly longer than pre-internet. A huge opportunity exists for a tour operator or tourist board to help make the decision process as effortless as possible – plug in your budget, number of days, preferences, likes/dislikes and hey presto. Make it easier and I'd even holiday in Wales.
Even the government is learning the lessons of simplicity. In 2010 Martha Lane Fox was asked to do a strategic review of DirectGov, the government's online portal. Her recommendations to Francis Maude can be found here. In summary, her focus was on making the process of accessing and dealing with government services as simple as possible - “the acid test for Directgov is whether it can empower, and make life simpler for citizens”. This is now the remit for the Government Digital Service within the Cabinet Office, and judging by their recent award they seem to be making a pretty good go of it. It's a great showcase of how technology is at its most powerful when you don't even notice it's there. And if the government can make our lives that little bit simpler, maybe just maybe we might trust them a little bit more.