Until recently, brands had one job: provide products and services that satisfy the needs and expectations of their customers.

But selling something desirable is no longer enough. Today’s consumers expect brands to be authentic, stand for something more than just their business, and earn their trust.

While 81 percent of consumers take trust into account when making a purchase decision, only 34 percent trust most of the brands they buy or use. So, what can businesses do to close this gap? 

Last week, I moderated a discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and asked a panel of distinguished marketers — some from emerging brands and others from established tech companies — to tackle this question. Here’s what they said:

  • Build a community of genuine supporters. According to Becca Han, head of Consumer Insights at Brandless, an established community of loyal brand advocates is an effective way to build trust. It’s also your best line of defense should a crisis or breach of trust ever occur. The two-year-old company has successfully fostered its band of ardent supporters by responding to all comments on social media — good or bad — so its customers feel heard. It also works with micro-influencers who are known fans of the company and its products, rather than turning to big names.
  • Give consumers clear and accurate information. In the electricity and energy space, customers are inundated with technical information. Many marketers try to educate consumers, but Evelyn Huang, chief Customer Experience Officer at Sunrun*, says this is the wrong approach. Consumers don’t want to be “educated” by companies — they simply want clear and accurate information that enables them to make informed decisions. Sunrun equips its customers with the practical intel they crave, and it also uses an internal mantra of “Be the Guide” to foster a culture of approachability and empower external-facing staff to drive relationships with consumers.
  • Do more and talk less. Trust is earned when actions meet words, which is why Tuula Rytila, corporate vice president at Microsoft Digital Stores**, says it’s imperative that companies take specific actions before they start talking about them. A proactive approach is particularly important for established brands like Microsoft. The company has taken swift actions to demonstrate its commitment to security, privacy, and ethics, including adopting GDPR globally before it was legally mandated to do so. It also made a point to evolve their stores and products to be accessible to underserved audiences like the visually impaired – while this builds trust with specific audiences, it benefits a much broader set of consumers.
  • Create experiences consumers want to share. As a company that sells a hearing aid product directly to consumers, Eargo* faces a special challenge. It must convince people to spend a few thousand dollars on a device they will put in their body, without having a chance to try it out beforehand. To build and maintain that level of trust, Shiv Singh, CMO at Eargo*, says the company communicates with its customers consistently and thoroughly — not only at the point of purchase, but throughout the lifetime usage of its product. Eargo* also leverages the power of word-of-mouth endorsements by encouraging its customers to share their personal experiences.

The opportunity for brands is vast. Now it’s up to them to rise to the challenge. View the full panel event here.

*Edelman client
**Microsoft is a client of Assembly, a DJE Holdings subsidiary

Russell Dubner is President and CEO of Edelman US.