Earlier this year, Starbucks went through a major brand trust crisis. When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police on two African-American men waiting for a business meeting, leading to a chain reaction of arrests and protests, it had big consequences. Starbucks overhauled their store rules in reaction to the manager’s actions, differences in patron treatment at the chain’s many locations came to light, and customers lost faith in the brand.
The buying public lost faith in the trust of the brand to do it’s intended service, successfully. In an unambiguous sense, this is the definition of brand trust. But, finding a metric or measurement to accurately convey trust in a brand is an inexact science and one that still relies much on direct customer feedback.
According to YouGov, a polling organization, Starbucks’ workplace reputation and purchase consideration scores dropped substantially. Purchase consideration scores, which measure customer intent to make a purchase, dropped from 28 percent in April to 24 percent at the end of May. The brand’s workplace reputation—that is, its reputation as a good place to work—dropped from 17 percent to approximately 4 percent.
Metrics such as YouGov’s are one of the many ways brand trust is measured. Pollsters like YouGov quantify trust, prejudices and shopping habits the public has with particular brands. Brand trust can also be measured by analyzing social media content, by tracking consumer habits, and through internal organizational tracking.
Brand Trust & PR Crises
For instance, United Airlines went through a perfect storm of brand trust crises over the past five years. Their merger with Continental Airlines led to employee strife, labor union difficulties and consumer dissatisfaction; a series of well-documented PR nightmares such as the dragging of an overbooked passenger off a plane led to declining brand trust among customers.
United uses both internal metrics like customer surveys and external metrics—like brand-related conversations on social media—to understand brand trust. Overtures to United employees, customers, and the general public are also helping to improve, or at least stabilize the airline’s brand perceptions. In 2016, United ranked fifth among traditional carriers on the J.D. Power North American Airline Satisfaction Survey; the brand still ranks #5 in J.D. Power’s 2018 survey—but sometimes, stabilizing brand trust is just as important as increasing it.
Because brand trust is the closest thing to a quantitative methodology for understanding how people feel about a brand, brand trust, well… matters. When organizations rank particularly poorly for brand trust, it’s a sign they need to take drastic steps to rebuild that relationship. Two examples of that are Domino’s Pizza’s public 2009 admission that they were neglecting taste in their product following years of losing market share to competitors, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s public letter in 2014 that repudiated much of the company’s prior strategy and promised to change their internal working culture.
Understanding Brand Trust
Certain brands have done particularly great jobs of encouraging brand trust: Amazon’s customer-friendly policies encourage brand trust despite their often cutthroat business practices, supermarket chains like Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s encourage active customer fan bases, and luxury automakers such as Tesla and Maserati court customers and turn their cars into markers of identity.
The methods of understanding brand trust are relatively similar across companies and organizations. Surveys of customers, vendors, employees, or the public can gauge various measures of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Externally, brands (or their agencies) can mine social media posts, emoji usage or online reviews to quickly gain insight into how they are perceived.
Brand trust isn’t a new concept at all; brands have been conducting market research and surveys for decades to understand how they are perceived. However, interest in brand trust metrics spiked in the 2010s when easy analysis of social media posts and quick email-based polling became easier.
Brand Trust and External Perceptions
Many brands exist in a sealed, relatively hermetic world. Inside organizations, of course, employees often drink the internal Kool-Aid and have an artificially rosy view of their company and product. This is why it’s so important to look to the outside in order to understand brand trust.
There are a variety of different quantitative and qualitative methods for determining brand trust—brands can rely on external vendors, crunch numbers internally, or find the right mix of the two for their organization. Using sentiment analysis APIs on social media data, for instance, or tracking hits and classifying them on Google News can go a long way towards understanding brand sentiment.
Brand trust metrics, however, aren’t perfect. Sending customers email surveys only attracts answers from a subset of respondents with enough time or interest in completing a full survey and social media only offers an incomplete picture. Happy customers are far less likely to post positive reviews on Yelp or Amazon than unhappy customers, and negative mentions of brands on Twitter largely outnumber positive ones. With that said, brand trust at least offers a window into how brands are perceived—and that’s better than nothing.
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