Ways to improve, or destroy, trust in your brand

Ways to improve, or destroy, trust in your brand

I drive a Skoda Yeti. Yes, you read that right. I drive a Skoda. And the car’s called a Yeti. So that’s combining a car company brand which used to be the butt of a hundred breakdown jokes with a mythical man-monster from Nepalese folklore. Which means I normally get one of two responses – ‘What’s that?!’ or ‘Why that?!’.

You only have to go back to the 1990s and Skoda was a joke. Literally. There was a whole joke book published about how bad Skoda cars were. Filled with such hilarity as ‘How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill it with petrol’ and ‘Why does a Skoda have a heated rear windscreen? To keep your hands warm when you push it’. In fact, I wryly used a couple of these when telling my colleagues at BWD before announcing I was buying a Yeti. However, in the past 10-20 years Skoda has quietly and carefully invested in, and created a remarkable turnaround in its brand, resulting in it winning award after award in numerous countries, and creating a loyal, trusting customer fan base.

What can we learn from Skoda’s turnaround? Have other brands managed this success? And what do we need to watch for to avoid a brand’s trust being trashed? Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Do… Be honest about your brand faults. And fix them. (Skoda)

Skoda’s dreadful reputation for shoddy workmanship, combined with global sales of only 172,000 in 1991, meant the company was in dire trouble. But then, attracted by its infrastructure, employees’ skills and low salary costs, Volkswagen came along and bought it. VW reinvented the ailing brand with an advertising campaign that acknowledged its dodgy heritage, using the strapline ‘You won’t believe it’s a Skoda. Honest’ as well as playing on VW’s trusted ownership. This honesty, humility and humour, matched with a new product focus on simplicity, build quality and functionality at class-beating prices, resulted in an engineering-led brand that delivers more for less, with a touch of quirkiness to add extra head-turns. Just look at this recent ad campaign:

The success has continued year-on-year. In 2013, in a UK national car satisfaction survey (using 46,000 participants), the Skoda Yeti came top, with two of their other models also making the top ten, and in 2016 their sales had multiplied six-fold.

Don’t… lie to your customers (VW Group)

Okay, so Skoda has been a roaring success. But it does have a potential problem. Customers can easily lose trust if they discover they’ve been lied to. And it was recently exposed that’s what Skoda’s parent company, VW Group, had been doing with diesel emissions.

Skoda has, so far, mostly avoided having its carefully-built trust destroyed by this scandal. Although the scandal affects all VW Group brands (VW, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi, Seat and Skoda), most people perceive the issue as being a ’VW’ problem, not the various other brands. Only time will tell whether Skoda’s trust remains intact or is destroyed by this ongoing scandal. VW on the other hand has had its brand thoroughly taken to the cleaners, with the fallout from the scandal so far costing it 30,000 jobs and billions of dollars in fines and dropped sales.

Do… set a good example for your brand (Bunnings)

Bunnings, like Coles, Woolies and other Australian retail icons, has an advantage over many other companies because its ubiquity feeds reassurance, and subsequently, trust. But Bunnings has another trick up its sleeve, something it does better than almost any other Aussie brand. It actively cares about and supports communities. Just think of its most obvious method – sausage sizzles for local organisations outside almost every store in the country each weekend. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard people saying they’re going to Bunnings, not for a new power tool or hose replacement, but for a sausage sarnie! And this makes it a brand that people are proud to identify with. The importance of demonstrating community involvement in a real and relatable way is clear. It sets an example that other brands should really take notice of.

Don’t… set a bad example for your brand (Uber)

For the past few years, everyone I know in Australia has been using Uber instead of standard taxis. “They’re awesome” I hear, “cheaper than taxis, they turn up when they’re supposed to, they don’t smell of …”, you can insert various odour complaints here. But then we started hearing about some serious problems with the company including sexual harassment, discrimination, and major management turmoil. For some companies this could destroy trust in their brand, but Uber is fairly lucky in that its service is so easy to use that it would make most people’s lives harder if they refused to use it. So it will most likely survive this brand hammering unless, of course, someone decided to offer us a Lyft?

Do… Be clear and simple about who you are (EML)

Employers Mutual Limited is one of the largest workers compensation specialists in Australia. But as it expanded in to new markets and increased its service offerings, clients were confused and therefore there was a lack of trust around the company name. It went under different names in different states, and to complicate matters further, it had numerous sub-brands for specific industry sectors. They needed to create a clear, consistent message to be used nationally to help reduce confusion about the parent and sub-brands and increase trust in the company.

Under the guidance of BWD, the company was renamed EML, sub-brands were consolidated and the organisation was given a unified identity. The new brand clearly helps to communicate the company’s prime message – we help people get their lives back – and provides assurance for partner life insurance companies that it can help cut costs, mitigate risks and support revenue generation.

Don’t… talk empty jargon (Theresa May, UK Prime Minister)

It never ceases to amaze me how so many organisations (and individuals) still use jargon in the misguided belief that customers understand, believe and/or trust it. Let me explain the problem with it:

  1. It alienates your customer because, unless they work in your industry, they won’t understand what you’re saying.
  2. People have become wise to the fact that jargon is a way to talk about a subject without saying anything substantial and possibly covering up a truth.
  3. If they don’t understand you and suspect you’re hiding something, they’re not going to trust you. Which means you’re damaging your brand.

As British Prime Minister, Theresa May represents the Conservative Party brand. By using empty phrases such as “Brexit means Brexit”, “strong and stable leadership”, and “coalition of chaos”, the recent election result has proven that many voters neither understand, believe or trust her (or her party).

Do… Use history to create trust in a new generation (Lego)

One of my earliest memories is receiving a huge box of Lego for my fourth birthday. In the late seventies, I – and everyone I knew – spent their waking hours playing with these wonderful bricks.

But in the early 2000s, due to financial complacency, not concentrating on core products, and trying to broaden its appeal through lifestyle brands and theme parks, the company nearly went bust. Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstrop ditched hundreds of products to focus on what made previous generations’ buyers so excited and loyal to the brand – bricks. Lego succeeded by tapping in to this older demographic who had beloved memories of their product, and, through them, reached their children, Lego’s new audience.

Lego has always been about its users creating content (building things, in Lego terms). So, with the explosion of content-driven and engagement-driven marketing, Lego was perfectly placed to tap into this trend. Combine it with clever social media use (it now has around 280,000 Twitter followers) and Lego has become a huge success. Again.

But don’t… hang on to the past when it’s detrimental to the future (Firestone Tyres)

Leaning on history and nostalgia are all well and good. But they shouldn’t allow for complacency. Lego almost succumbed to this but managed to work their way out. Other companies haven’t been so fortunate. Firestone Tyres was one of the leaders in its field, having enjoyed 70 years of uninterrupted growth and being so well established that it had a country club for all its employees.

But everything changed in the 1970s when French company Michelin introduced the radial tyre, a new product innovation that was longer-lasting, more economical to make, and crucially, safer. Firestone responded but it clung to old ways of working, and tinkered with existing products rather than really being innovative. And when a competitor creates a product that’s safer (and therefore more trustworthy), that response isn’t good enough. Within 20 years, Firestone was gone, gobbled up by Japanese competitor Bridgestone.

And this all leads me back to my Skoda. Because, despite its dire engineering quality in the 80s and 90s, I have fond memories of watching British Rallysport on the TV at the weekend, and a certain little car, the Skoda Estelle Motorsport, winning the British RAC Rally year after year. Maybe the combination of memories, plus Skoda’s current ability to look to the future (and not just its radial tyres), played a part in my decision to buy, and love, the car that I did…


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