Brand Trust: How to develop Ten practical strategies to build it, even if you are just starting out

The three brand trust questions you may be asking

Many businesses face three questions around building brand trust:

  1. Do you always have to earn trust in advance? Or, are there other approaches to getting trust that is not based on past experience?
  2. Is brand trust only based on that which is obvious? For instance, are clients basing brand trust on the criteria that we would expect them to use, such as service levels?
  3. Are there complementary approaches to building brand trust we should consider? Are we missing an opportunity to build trust by only chasing after what we’re used to working on?

This article discusses scenarios where these questions are relevant. It also provides practical examples of how to answer these questions. This article is intentionally comprehensive to provide you with many practical, useful examples. 


Scenarios where your business needs to build brand trust

A newer brand with limited brand trust.

Let’s say your brand has been around for a while and has delivered according to expectations. It follows that there should be some degree of brand trust if you are still in business. But, is it that rigid? Is it only about social proof?

  • What do you do if you are a new business and need to build brand trust sooner rather than later so you can stay in business? 
  • What strategies can you use until you get the sales and the positive reviews? For instance, can we get away with presenting facts and hope to build brand trust if the brand is new? 

A brand with a troubled past having brand trust issues.

  • What if our brand’s reviews are not ideal and we need to show we have changed our ways and are on a different course? Sometimes it seems easier to have no reputation than a bad reputation. But, there are ways to address these challenges.
  • Is there an approach to do this? You’ll see some ideas below that help you provide proof points around how you have changed, and why you should be trusted. 

A poor industry image where the category or industry is not trusted.

  • What do you do if you are from a category or industry with a poor reputation for trustworthiness? We can all think of a few of these in an instant. Although it can be challenging, it provides an opportunity if most of your competitors are not trusted by their clients.
  • Where are the opportunities to build brand trust and differentiate your brand? What do you do if you need to show you can be trusted. Usually, this means showing that you are set apart from your category or industry. But this takes some creative thinking.

I will explain an approach that you may find useful under each of these circumstances. Let’s start off with some background information.  

Some background about the relationship between a brand and brand trust

Brand trust is essential if you wish to make it easier to get and keep clients.

That’s because brand trust suggests that various financial, performance and social risks associated with buying that brand have been relatively well managed.

Brand trust also helps you charge a price premium. When facing tight margins, this becomes critical to long-term business success.

But, brand trust is not easy to get if you are a new brand or have experienced previous complications.

So, how do you address these challenges? 

Let’s begin with an overview of some key brand trust considerations before proposing options:

  1. A brand contains a bundle of qualities that affect brand trust.
  2. Some of these qualities rely on promotional communications by the brand owner.
  3. Some of these qualities rely on experiences with the brand or the people who represent it.
  4. Unpaid communications, such as word-of-mouth in social media, may expose undesirable brand qualities based on perceptions or negative experiences.
  5. When done right, a brand can represent trustworthiness on its own. There may be a limited need to talk about anything else. For instance, consider the success of Apple in selling products based on reputation.

This means that brands are purposely shaped over time. Sometimes the way we want them to be shaped. Sometimes not.

It also suggests that it’s an ongoing process that can have unexpected influences.

Let’s have a look at some of those unexpected influences that may provide you with opportunities.

Building brand trust is not always based on what you would expect

A copywriter with an enviable track record had an opinion on using a logical argument to sell more.

He suggested that, when creating a sales message, we should not enter the conversation in someone’s mind. Rather, we should enter the emotion in their heart and gut if we wish to sell more.

In other words, appealing to emotion can be more powerful than appealing to facts:

  • We can all relate to using “gut feel” when deciding whether we trust someone or something. We have all had the experience when facts were not enough to make a sale. Even when those facts relied on indisputable logic.
  • Many of us have had the experience of a sale based on emotion win over a sale based on logic. But, it turns out that emotions rely on very sound logic. So, even when you appeal to emotion, there is a sound rational basis for this approach.

Successful brand builders understand emotion well:

  • Talking about emotional benefits rather than functional benefits grows successful brands. It is more difficult to imitate a competitor’s brand built at an emotional level. Copywriters will tell you that an emotional hook is essential in your messaging to build a brand and make a sale.
  • Getting this right helps to differentiate your brand in a more sustainable manner. So that you can sell more and sell at a higher price.

Not convinced? Consider why you bought that expensive brand when you could have done the job with a much cheaper brand. 

Let’s talk about gut feel, how to use it and whether it’s only based on logic

The role of the subconscious mind in decision-making is becoming a popular topic:

  • It is relevant since many decisions happen without deliberate thought. Automatically, in many cases.
  • This implies that a person may not understand the reason for their decision to buy in a particular way. They may attribute brand trust to intuition.
  • Adam Grant has noted that intuition is subconscious pattern recognition. In other words, we may come to conclusions based on patterns we are observing.

One might argue that addressing subconscious concerns or fears could support brand trust. This may explain why people buy using emotion while sometimes ignoring rational selling points. Like those shoes or the car, that you had to have…

The communications industry has used this fear-based approach with success for years. The idea is that people are more responsive to an appeal that prevents some sort of loss.

This approach of preventing a negative outcome seems to be more powerful than an appeal based on gaining something of similar value. Copywriters and negotiators also keep emphasizing this point. If this approach is useful, do we know what these concerns are? 

  • Yes. There is research on these concerns. Some of it is formal, and other sources list what is most likely to get sales based on actual experiences.
  • There are at least thirty-three concerns and I will discuss some of them here. I will also include practical examples of how to use them on individuals or in businesses.

It may be that some of these concerns rely on experiences within a category or industry. They may also rely on solving an individual’s concerns. You will find that they may overlap with the idea of Moments of Truth, a concept used to assess service quality. For example, did service delivery meet or exceed expectations on an empathy criterion? Any way you look at it, you will find that there is an opportunity to redefine your category or industry.

  • You may do this by redefining what matters. By introducing new ideas that your competitors may not have explored. You can use this to create and own spaces in a person’s mind through your communications.
  • You can also use this to build better, valued, and unique processes in your business. 

Practical applications

We wish to address concerns and thereby earn brand trust in advance. At least thirty-three categories of fear or concern exist:

  • These are areas where you can solve problems or “pain points” to earn brand trust.
  • These concerns may relate to current or prospective clients.
  • This could happen through your communications.
  • It could also take place through the processes or products or services you develop.

There are two broad areas where the thirty-three categories may apply. They are either:

  1. Concerns that they are currently facing that you can address. For instance, a person would need motor vehicle insurance in the event of damage or loss to their car. The fear of loss is a concern that short-term insurance could address.
  2. Concerns about doing business with your organization, your category, or your industry. For instance, someone needing insurance might wish to avoid the short-term insurance industry based on previous experience or word-of-mouth. This may hinge on uncertainty due to the industry’s claim payout ratio.

Here are five examples – out of the thirty-three categories – that could arouse deep emotions at a gut-level: 

1. Being seen by others as having made a poor decision

Examples of applications are: 

  • Buying something that most people would regard as being in bad taste. Build brand trust by lowering the risk of a poor choice. Review features and examples of popular items could be one way of doing this.
  • Business colleagues noting you have appointed a consultant without the appropriate skills. Build brand trust by showing the bio of the consultant in question. Include an opportunity to see case studies of that person’s work.
  • Buying a product that is not friendly to the environment. Build brand trust by showing sourcing policies that are friendly to the environment. Publish your organization’s values. Show how these relate to environmental policies. Showcase studies of how you get your raw materials.
  • Exposing a business to risk by not taking out the necessary insurance cover. If you are an insurer, build brand trust with a process to ensure clients get insured with the right policy. If you are the organization, explain your insurance management processes to mitigate risk.
2. Disappointment at not having your expectations met

 Examples of applications are: 

  • Not being able to retire due to poor investment advice. Financial advisors can build brand trust by showing a trustworthy process. For instance, a model that assesses a client’s financial needs. Brand trust can also be generated through case studies or reviews.
  • Losing money due to inadequate legal advice. Build brand trust by showcasing the people involved in giving advice. Brand trust can also come through case studies. For instance, this might show the process involved. It might also show the results achieved over time. A client list can also generate brand trust.
  • Not meeting business targets due to ineffective marketing consultancy. Build brand trust by showing a proven process. Showcase studies with video testimonials if possible. Provide a money-back guarantee under certain conditions.
  • Not getting the job done because your business hired the wrong person. Build brand trust if you are a headhunter by using a tested quality control process. Also, provide a money-back guarantee within a specified period under certain conditions. Allow for the person to be part of a project team first before hiring.
3. Feeling isolated or abandoned

 Examples of applications are: 

  • Dealing with a financial institution after experiencing credit card fraud. If you are a financial institution, build brand trust by showcasing how fast you can respond. Explain your policy of fairness. Show how there may be an external 3rd party to settle claims if necessary.
  • Dealing with a short-term insurer when your claim is not paid out. Short-term insurers can build brand trust by having a transparent claims process. Publish your payout ratios relative to the industry. Show how a client can get recourse if a claim is not paid.
  • A small business after its IT system has a cybersecurity issue. A cybersecurity company can build brand trust by showing how they can end the problem. They can also show their preventative measures though their policies and software.
  • A business that cannot raise the necessary financing to stay in business. Generate brand trust if you’re a lender by showing how you differ from banks. Provide testimonials if necessary. Explain exactly how your process works ahead of time.
4. Failing or appearing to be a failure

 Examples of applications are: 

  • Not succeeding in a profession due to inadequate education. An educational institution can earn brand trust by showing alumni successes. These could include hiring organizations. They could also include salary surveys.
  • A business failing to expand into a new market after investing a lot of money and time in these efforts. A consultancy could earn brand trust by showing how it has got new market wins for other clients. They may show their process for ensuring a higher chance of success. They may even show their team members’ records and partner networks in other markets.
  • Not living in a desirable suburb. An estate agent could build brand trust by introducing people to the best suburbs for them. This could happen to those new to a country or area. This person could also get them the most affordable deals to do so.
  • A business that loses several key accounts through its own negligence. A consultancy could earn brand trust by introducing processes for key account management. They may also enable the appropriate training. Finally, they may assist with screening and hiring the right people for the job.
5. Issues arising out of complacency

 Examples of applications are: 

  • A business not staying up to date with changing customer tastes. Earn brand trust by providing up-to-date market trends to them. Provide them with a platform for the right feedback before they enter production.
  • A business not retaining its best employees. Earn brand trust by showing how you have created programs to keep employees. Communicating policies to promote leadership hiring from within the organization.
  • Not planning for your financial future, such as marriage or retirement. Earn brand trust by providing accessible solutions to plan investment alternatives. Showing how investments can be tax efficient.
  • Not planning for risks that could have far-reaching consequences. A consultancy could earn brand trust by providing a simulation framework. It could also audit their disaster planning contingencies. The board could also show how their non-executive directors actually do add independence.

Effective communication requires structure

 Identifying these concerns is a start. Persuading people your brand is trustworthy is more complex. There are three stages you wish to go through for each concern you addressing. These include:

  1. A warmup stage. This is where you create likeability and show why your message is meaningful.
  2. A stage to reduce uncertainty. This is where you use social proof and create authority for your message.
  3. A stage to motivate action. This is where you get someone to move in a particular direction. For instance, a free trial. In some cases, creating scarcity may make this process work faster as long as it’s done with care.

Do the three stages above seem familiar to you? If you have ever bought something online, you will recognize them.

  • Think of how they created empathy with a problem you faced.
  • Then they demonstrated expertise in solving the problem.
  • Then they showed you how easy it was to act. And how it was risk-free. But, you needed to move fast…

 Some of these communications, while effective are blatant sales pitches. Others manage to do the same job to build trust and get a sale. But, they do it in a less obvious way. 

Addressing the three scenarios where you need to build brand trust

1. A newer brand with limited brand trust.

 Given that there is a limited track record, there are several options to pursue.Here are 10 ideas to build brand trust:

  1. Get past the brand trust issue by limiting perceived competition. For instance, offer something that nobody else has and pair this with some of the options below. Remember the adage that you should not compete where there is competition?
  2. Offer whatever limited social proof you can get.
    • Work with the reviews and recommendations you have until you can get more.
    • If you are delivering as promised, improve the process of doing this.
    • Automate where possible.
    • Remember to make this credible.
    • There is significant advice on how to do this better. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  3. Amplify positive word-of-mouth through paid posts if possible.
    • Somebody credible may have had a great experience with your brand. But, if nobody sees the post on your social media page, it’s lost.
    • Some brands pay to amplify selected posts if it’s worth having a great brand rub off on your brand.
  4. Use positive brand associations. Do you have channel partners or affiliates with more credibility? Leverage them to get momentum. Many marketers swear by this approach.
  5. Offer a money-back guarantee if possible.
    • This lessens the perceived risk if things go wrong.
    • Also, skip the fine print if you can. You’ll be familiar with the “No questions asked” approach which is so appealing.
  6. Make sure you are contactable. How often have you not bought something because there is no phone number, no address, or no business name beyond a brand or domain name? Makes you wonder if the brand’s owner is credible, doesn’t it? We’ve all seen the ads belonging to those businesses that do not seem to want accountability.
  7. Be transparent about your policies.
    • What is regarded as “Fair?”
    • If something goes wrong, what will it take to get compensation?
    • Showing that it is easy to do will be even better.
  8. Be transparent about your processes.
    • How do you operate?
    • Do you have people or technologies that are better or faster?
    • How is quality built into your processes?
  9. Be transparent about your standards.
    • How fast do you deliver?
    • What are your service levels like?
    • Who is available if things go wrong?
    • Is there an independent 3rd party to keep you honest?
  10. Be visible. All things being equal, familiarity builds some trust. Communicate whenever possible as long as you are being relevant.

2. A brand with a troubled past having brand trust issues.

A brand with a troubled past may have even more difficulty than a brand with no reputation.Here are 10 ideas to build brand trust: 

  1. New management? New ownership? A new approach? If there is a change, talk about it. If the past difficulty links up to people, ownership, or processes you must show some change. This is a start, but it helps if there are toxic aspects of the past that needed to go. New leadership brings its brand attributes along with them. Then, pair this up with some of the options below.
  2. Get past the brand trust issue by limiting perceived competition.
    • I have worked with troubled brands and have introduced something different and valuable. For instance, offer something that nobody else does.
    • You are changing the playing field to change the game by introducing a new variable.
    • Familiarity with the thirty-three concerns that clients have could help you find ways to be a game-changer.
  3. Offer whatever limited social proof you can get.
    • Work with the reviews and recommendations you have until you can get more.
    • If you are delivering as promised, improve the process of doing this.
    • Automate where possible.
    • Remember to make this credible. It will be difficult at the start.
    • Remember that new groups of people enter the market without prior perceptions about being your client. I’m often surprised at this, but it happens.
  4. Amplify positive word-of-mouth through paid posts if possible.
    • Somebody credible may have had a great experience with your brand. But, if nobody sees the post on your social media page, it’s lost.
    • Some brands pay to amplify selected posts if it’s worth having a great brand rub off on your brand. I’ve seen brands doing a turnaround where this kind of approach drives great campaigns that deliver results.
  5. Be visible.
    • I’ve worked with brands in trouble with extensive communications during a turnaround.
    • When the message is relevant and truthful and believable perceptions can change faster than you might expect.
  6. Use positive brand associations.
    • Do you have channel partners or affiliates with more credibility? Leverage them to get momentum.
    • I have found that this helps if there’s a belief that this will make you accountable.
    • At times this also helps if these partners fulfill the functions you cannot do well, thereby eliminating those processes from your value chain that previously tarnished your brand.
  7. Offer a money-back guarantee if possible.
    • This lessens the perceived risk if things go wrong. It’s also a great incentive for you to make things work better,
    • A “No questions asked” approach, if possible, shows you’re sincere.
  8. Be transparent about your policies.
    • A poor reputation may have stemmed from a lack of clarity. Be clear. Your clients having less knowledge of your industry may hold a different view of what is fair or reasonable behavior.
    • It also shows that you have thought about a policy in advance. This is important as it reveals your state of mind, logic, and preparedness as an organization to prospective clients.
  9. Be transparent about your processes.
    • Talk about the quality built into your processes.
    • Show why clients will have a great experience.
    • Use this to prove why they can trust you this time around. I’ve used this approach many times before and have seen it being used successfully by others.
  10. Be transparent about your standards. (This approach can be very successful.)
    • You have a reputation that needs changing. Talk about the standards that they must expect.
    • What are your service levels like?
    • Who is available if things go wrong?
    • Is there an independent 3rd party to keep you honest?
    • Show how they will be safe, even under an adverse scenario.

3. A poor industry image where the category or industry is not trusted.

Brand trust may be an issue at a higher level than your organization. There is much opportunity to excel when the bar is set low. It may be a sign that many of the concerns mentioned above are not addressed.Here are 10 ideas to build brand trust:

  1. Change the game. Show what has changed. New processes? New technologies?
    • Be aware that this needs to be believable.
    • Sometimes a new and unrelated brand may become necessary to achieve this.
  2. Use proof points.
    • Why is the change an improvement?
    • Prove the claims that you are making. Use external third party experts or testimonials or surveys if necessary.
  3. Be transparent about your processes.
    • Category or industry differentiation often derives from process change. Talk about the quality built into your processes.
    • Show why clients will have a great experience. Use this to prove why they can trust you.
  4. Amplify positive word-of-mouth through paid posts if possible.
    • You may need a client to talk about how you have changed the category or industry to be credible.
    • Active participation in online groups is a useful activity to get content.
  5. Use positive brand associations.
    • Do you have channel partners or affiliates with credibility? Let them do the talking to their client base.
    • Showing how they work with you to improve their clients’ lives improves their image too. They may also give you ideas you had not thought of.
  6. Be visible.
    • All things being equal, familiarity builds some trust. Communicate whenever possible as long as you are being relevant.
    • Try to be of service to your market. If nobody knows you have changed and are better than your peers, you don’t get to build trust.
  7. Talk about leadership if possible.
    • It is usually an outsider that reimagines a category or industry.
    • If there is new thinking in the business, talk about it. Remember to communicate in simple terms. This is essential as prospective clients may not understand your industry jargon in terms of why you have changed.
  8. Talk about how your policies are different.
    • Stodgy categories or industries have set policies. And they usually do not favor the client.
    • Show how your policies are different and client-friendly. I have used this approach often with much success.
  9. Talk about how your standards are different.
    • What changes have you introduced?
    • Why are they better than the rest of the category or industry? (Often, there will be a change in technology to achieve this. Consider how financial technology brands disrupted the financial services industry. These introduced higher standards at a lower cost.)
  10. Make a deliberate effort to have a well thought out media strategy.
    • This may seem out of context in this discussion. Yet, it’s not. Categories and industries with poor reputations may arise through limited competition. They may also have outdated business models that force them to operate at low margins. This often reflects in their media strategies.
    • If you plan to be a disrupter, show this in your media strategy. Disruption is often based on technology. Good digital media strategies can assist you in this regard to target communications. (This may seem obvious but is surprisingly often ignored.)


What I’ve described above may seem complex. In some places, it will take time to implement.

I suggest you create a list of opportunities and consider the impact and ease of implementing each one and move forward accordingly.

By the way, if this thinking appeals to you, there is also an online tool to execute these ideas faster or come up with new ideas to build brand trust.

About the author

Alan Ohannessian started WisdomInc in 1999.

He has broad-based experience in how marketing strategy and analytics are practically integrated with other strategy disciplines for more effective outcomes.

Prior to starting WisdomInc, he started a Customer Relationship Management consultancy within the Ogilvy Group in the mid-1990s and worked within the Ogilvy Group over a 5-year period.

He has advised product and service organizations for more than 70 global and local B2C and B2B brands since 1995.

As a specialist across several disciplines, he is able to provide an integrated view of a solution when providing strategic insights. Areas of specialty have included Marketing Strategy, Brand Strategy, Communications Strategy, Brand Experience Management, and Pricing Strategy.

He has taught Marketing Strategy to MBA students at Wits Business School, on a part-time basis, through the “Marketing in a Connected World” course.

He holds a Master’s degree in Distribution Channel Strategy from the University of the Witwatersrand.

He has also completed a postgraduate dissertation in the area of cost-competitive mass-customization manufacturing strategies at Wits (where he taught Marketing Strategy, Consumer Behaviour, Marketing Research, and Retail Marketing over a 2-year period from 1993 to 1994.)

For further information, go to or connect with Alan at