Are you trustworthy?

By: Glenn Geisendorfer
February 2009 Communication

Do you act authentically for your brand? Honestly…sincerely? And importantly, does what you do instill consumer confidence?

In light of hard economic times, consumers need to trust brands now more than ever. They need to be confident, assured in their purchases — particularly if they had to sacrifice to get them. Trustworthy brands will aim to instill consumer confidence through embodying three simple
traits: honesty, familiarity, loyalty.

Smile without veneers

The attire a brand wears shouts the honesty, and the authenticity, of the decisions behind it. One very simple measure of authenticity could be the honest (or not) choices a brand makes with material: What’s metal is metal. Plastic is plastic. Wood is wood. They are all wonderful materials in their own way…why on earth would you want one to look like another? And whatever approach you decide on, try to create the material “throughline” to your work, the material theme that carries through…from the fixture that holds the bag that carries the billfold that carries the dollars that paid your way – each leaves a tactile (and real) impression.

Understand too that pushing a product too far, or overcomplicating a message, line, or promotion is tacitly understood as a diversion from the truth: that honest devotion, thoughtfulness and planning may simply not be there. Rather than extend a product line to say, exploit a green trend in a market segment, build on that which may already be green. And when devoting the time and thought to core messaging, don’t let consumers stray from it. Take Patagonia for instance: its core traits of quality, thoughtfulness and honesty touch everything from the rigor they use in sourcing sustainable materials to the thoroughness and transparency of its business practices. They’d never have to add a “green” extension to a product line, as the qualities that prove them a sustainable company are already built in.

Old and Improved

Familiar brands stay on message, yes, but primarily repeat an experience. They are always evolutionary, and build on what they do best. No generation is too far removed from the family tree, and is precisely why vintage brands will always resonate, by staying current because they secure their heritage. Stable. Dependable. Easy.

Familiarity is simply the logical evolution of the brand experience – meant for a lifetime. Brands built for the long-term need to design with the end in mind. That is, visualize your future and make logical, incremental steps to get there. This helps create a cadence to product introductions, and will encourage additional looks by the consumer when budgets loosen up again. And accordingly, innovation will need to move from the “new and different” to “new and better,” where building on former successes -and preparing for the future ones – accomplishes what we all want from ourselves and the brands we endorse: legacy.

We’re engaged

Loyalty, really, is a love-relationship between brand and consumer.
Brand loyalty = brand love. If you love another person, you’ll give them doses of encouragement to do what? To increase the potential for more relationship. A smile, a simple thank you, or a thoughtful innovation can go a long, long way. And should you offend, the humble and direct approach is always the surest choice, no matter the size of the offense.

But most importantly, the love-relationship is a commitment. Committed to a joint future, where perhaps the destination is not quite as important as the journey. Loyal, trustworthy brands will invite their consumers along, perhaps taking a couple of hits, but will mutually grow through the experience. Tonal implications at retail, interactive or media are huge when placing the relationship first. That latest technology isn’t the differentiator it once was, as much as it should be the empathic solution to a real human need. The point is that the primary, the most important motivator for any brand is its relationship with its consumer. Value this first, and all other business realities — margins, forecasts, sell-through, etc. – will naturally reflect the health of this relationship.

About the author

Glenn Geisendorfer, award-winning creative director and co-founder of Seattle-based brand-effect design consultancy Platform, Inc. From leading the Pike Place Roast launch effort to crafting Coca Cola's global sustainability campaign; the introduction of the Nike Shox line, World Cup, and Nike Sphere, and brand design for Nike Running communications, Geisendorfer has played a central role. Visit: Email:

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