The volatile chemistry of trust

My friend in Portland Stanley Moss linked me to this interesting research from Stanford: Highly Trusted Brands Run More Risk of Offending Customers.

Researchers invented a new brand and presented it to two separate groups of consumers. One set got a version with a “sincere” brand personality; the others got an “exciting personality”. The former started emails with “Hello” and the latter with “Hey”. These personalities were carried through all the marketing material.

After a while, the researchers introduced a deliberate mistake in the service, corrected after a couple of days. After which reported “trust” in the sincere brand fell – but actually went up in the exciting brand.

You could look at this and try to form all sorts of explanations of the whys and wherefores. And try to calculate some kind of optimum brand personality and implement it.

My feeling is that could be a mistake. The chemistry of relationships is not easily predicted. I think the best thing is not to try to calculate a personality in the hopes of impressing customers; too difficult. Far better to find out what you really believe and care about as an organisation and present that, authentically. At least then you’ll stand a chance of feeling good. Second-guessing the customer can sometimes be a waste of energy.

4 thoughts on “The volatile chemistry of trust

  1. chris macrae

    The most extraordinary thing about this article is the bias in its title- sure high trust brands also have far greater opportunity too. The deeper a relationship trust of matters to a person the more value there is for human systems to build or destroy.

    I presume the reason why the negative slant was given – is that ad agencies (along with accountants the prime clients of academics in marketing departments thanks to very odd research priortities/funding bodies ) like issuing promises but don’t want the brand to be trust-focused – cos come to thing of it that would move advertising out to the very periphery of branding’s core. Far more exciting to communicate promises than to systemicatically know how to keep them.

    It is interesting that the paper does not mention the risk that the previously hi-trust brand of nation USA is now spinning, but then that would have taken their debate well beyond personality.

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Yes, the research title is a pretty dubious simplification. I suspect that their “sincere” brand created a kind of fragile, inoffensive, trust that couldn’t withstand the challenge of a service failure. The “exciting” brand may not have created that initial response but was more robust in relationship terms.

    Either way, once brands get in the realm of creating “personalities” for themselves, they risk the perils of narcissism.

  3. Conversations with Dina

    Social Networks and brand personality – strengthening the bond, differentiating the offer

    (A long post here – apologies to all folk for ‘dumping’ it into their newsreaders – am trying to figure out a way to get a shortened RSS feed working for my blog).


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