Brand Strategies Focused on Dependability Score Highest on Customer Trust

December 1,  2020
Contributor: Rama Ramaswami

Marketers who make dependability a cornerstone of their brand strategy are three times more likely to win customer trust.

Brand trust drives key business outcomes, such as increased customer preference and loyalty, but brand trust is experiencing a broad and rapid decline in general, and an especially sharp decline among millennials. 

“The brand trust bar is higher than it’s ever been,” said Carlos Guerrero, Senior Director, Advisory, Gartner, during the virtual Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo® 2020. “Our research shows that 74% of customers expect more from brands — not just around product performance or durability, but in how brands treat their customers, employees and the environment.”

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Marketers favor three brand trust-building strategies

Gartner defines brand trust as a customer’s ability to feel secure in the belief that a company will consistently follow through on its stated intentions to customers and others, particularly in times of difficulty. Brands pay a heavy price if they don’t meet customer expectations.

The Gartner 2019 Brand Trust Survey — conducted online among B2B and B2C customers — shows that 81% of customers refuse to do business with or buy from a brand that they don’t trust, and 89% expect to disengage from a brand that breaches their trust.

In an option-laden marketplace, marketing leaders may need to reevaluate their preferred ways of winning customer trust. Gartner research revealed three key potential drivers of brand trust: Warmth, authenticity and dependability.

“Caring is good, authentic is better, but dependable is best”

Each of these three factors is associated with an increase in customer trust, but their relative impact on trust varies significantly. For example, brands convey warmth to customers by expressing empathy and showing they care. In doing so, they often also signal that they are kind, generous and humble. But while demonstrating “warmth” seems like an intuitive way to achieve brand trust, it is the weakest driver of trust.

A brand demonstrates authenticity by aligning its stated values with actions, such as taking steps to support corporate responsibility. Authenticity is more powerful in driving customer trust than is warmth, but most effective is dependability — a customer’s belief that a brand will deliver all the forms of value that it promises.

Brand dependability gets top score from customers for building trust

Brands that present themselves as dependable rely less on feelings or emotions and more on showing customers that they can be trusted to deliver what they promise. Brands present themselves as dependable in several ways: Emphasize the current value they deliver, offer new or unexpected value, provide practical information and expertise, or remove customers’ pain points. For example:

  • During the early phases of the pandemic when grocery stores were overcrowded or closed, a restaurant chain turned sections of its restaurants into mini-grocery stores where customers could buy essential items, demonstrating that it could flex with customers’ most pressing needs to fulfill its promise of “delivering quality food.”

  • A telecommunications company cataloged and identified roadblocks to customer trust — such as price increases — and prioritized actions for the company to take to systematically improve brand trust.

The Gartner 2019 Brand Trust Survey shows that brands emphasizing dependability gain three times more customer trust than brands that focus primarily on caring. 

“Caring is good, authentic is better, but dependable is best,” Guerrero said. “It is the most effective way to build and maintain brand trust. This is an untapped opportunity for brands.”

The good news is that marketing leaders don’t have to choose only one strategy. Leading brands use all three approaches as part of their portfolio to establish brand trust. The point is to give due weight to dependability. 

Create messaging and take proactive steps to highlight not only caring and warmth, but also the practical, transactional benefits your brand delivers. Identify the value you’ve promised your customers and the signals they look for to trust your ability to deliver it.

Recommended Gartner client* reading: Improving Brand Trust in Untrusting Times by Carlos Guerrero et al.

*Note: Some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.

Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo®

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