Can Trust in a Brand Be Revived?

Wells Fargo logoThe question is… can trust be revived in a brand that is seriously damaged? Almost every year there are brands that amaze us with incredible stupidity… mostly generated by a drive for bigger sales numbers. Volkswagen not only misled consumers and dealers about emissions and gas mileage claims, but
tried to make it a small and inconsequential issue until investigators uncovered an ever-growing circle of management and leaders who actually knew exactly what was going on.

Wells Fargo, the newest ‘breacher of the truth’, has been hiding dishonest sales practices that drove employees across the country to actually createVW logo new accounts for customers without their knowing so that they could meet sales targets. Kind of reminds me of the mortgage industry melt-down by brokers and banks approving applicants who could never make the monthly payments in order to boost top-line revenues. What Wells Fargo did was inexcusable, and will not only hurt their brand, but stain the banking business overall.
Trust in a brand is critical to ensure long-term loyalty. It keeps consumers coming back and staying engaged. If it is violated… good luck with trying to rebuild a trust that has been established over many years. For example, would you trust claims from Volkswagen about emissions or mileage? Would you put that brand at the top of you shopping list if you were in the market for a new car? Or worse yet, would you trust Wells Fargo with your money? You’d be constantly looking over your shoulder to check if they were selling you things you didn’t need or want, or creating accounts you never wanted.

Trust is a critical foundation of building a brand relationship that can live on. Once eroded, it can take a generation or more to rebuild, if at all. So what can these companies do to re-connect their brand to consumers? This is something we think about a lot.

First, the brand must admit there was an issue. Denial erodes confidence more than anything. Fess up quickly and forthrightly… don’t hide behind corporate speak and a fog of uncertainty.

Second, the brand must make operational, structural and organizational changes that completely and absolutely signal the issue is being addressed and simply won’t happen again. Don’t duck it…. Address the problem straight on.

Third, the brand must communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t let consumers make up their minds about what the brand is doing on their own. Tell them, over and over, what is happening for the better. Companies that go silent only feed suspicions of mistrust.

Fourth, don’t continue to advertise how good the brand is. These types of messages will only fly in the face of the conflict consumers feel. Better to fix the problem than to gloss over it and imply that everything is fixed and OK when it is not. Fix it, implement it, and then tell consumers what you have done. We’ve seen agencies and marketers try to push brands too fast, and this often becomes wasted, and possibly detrimental, energy. Marketing messages in these circumstances can mitigate all the remedial efforts going on.

Fifth, communicate when you have examples of how the issue has been fixed. As a brand comes up with new, innovative programs to mitigate the negative issue, take the time to let your consuming franchise know what you are doing. It will help in mending the broken brand relationship, and may, in fact improve it over time.

Brand crises are difficult. It takes a strong Board of Directors and leadership team to drive a company to do the right thing, now, to protect as much of the brand relationship as possible so that trust can be rebuilt.

Often heard quote: “Trust takes years to build and seconds to break, and forever to repair”. So true.