In this guest post from Melody Townsend, General Manager – Product & Network Marketing at ME Bank, explores the practical steps marketers can take to build trust with customers.

The concept of ‘trust’ has always been around, but in more recent times, there’s been a growing emphasis on how trustworthy an organisation is in the eyes of its customers.

Irrespective of which of the numerous recent studies on trust you’ve read, the takeaway is clear, and to us as marketers obvious – anecdotal and statistical evidence increasingly suggests that trust is an important consideration for customers.

Yet, the modern marketplace is characterised by a high-level of consumer cynicism and it is becoming increasingly difficult to build and maintain brand trust.

There are four steps to build trust that I will explore in this article. To bring them to life, I’ll share some examples of how we have incorporated trust-building into our marketing activities at ME Bank.

1) Build trust with risk management

Risk and trust are wholly intertwined, as a loss of trust is one of the biggest risks that an organisation can face.

Trust lies at the heart of every relationship we value and is an extremely valuable commodity that takes years to build, but can be lost in a matter of seconds – especially in this digital age.

Historically, risk management functions within organisations have tended to focus on risk avoidance. If a project or a new marketing campaign presented even a low risk, more often than not the advice was: don’t proceed.

Increasingly, however, this is changing. Risk professionals are being encouraged to take a more open approach to balancing opportunities with threats, so that risk management can be used for competitive advantage.

Being a bank, risk management is front and centre at ME Bank, with a lot of ongoing work and employee training undertaken to instill the right risk mindset across all functions within the business.

One of the main ways we manage risk in marketing is through a collaborative committee we call the Communications Forum. Held twice a week and staffed with senior subject matter experts from around the bank, the Communications Forum ensures that every newly-developed customer-facing asset is assessed in accordance with our brand guidelines and values.

That’s every new letter to a customer, every above-the-line advertising campaign, every social media campaign, every blog post – you get the idea – they’re all assessed against criteria and reworked until approval by the Communications Forum is confirmed.

2) Build trust with technology and data

Our role as marketers is inextricably linked to technology. We’re part of digital transformations, cross-functional projects and the development of new mobile-first initiatives, all of which require us to act as the voice of the customer, and to ensure that our organisations are taking a customer-first approach to new innovations.

The banking industry is preparing for the roll out of Open Banking. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Open Banking will transform the banking industry. It will enable financial services customers to securely access and share their financial data with other financial institutions; customers are essentially giving permission to “open” their customer data to other companies.

The organisations that get Open Banking right and take a customer-first approach to it over the coming years are certain to benefit from increased customer engagement and trust, as they demonstrate how they are working harder for the customer.

More generally, another way to build trust via technology lies in the relentless pursuit of stringent data security. More and more marketers are involved in data security projects, because should an adverse event occur, it cannot simply be treated as a compliance issue – it’s a breach of trust and it impacts reputation.

Just think about Marriott. The hotels and hospitality group has been around since 1927 and is a highly trusted brand. Yet, less than two years after acquiring Starwood Hotels, it experienced one of the largest data breaches the world has ever seen, which saw the personal data of up to 500 million customers compromised.

Yet the data tells us that when data breaches do occur, customers can be forgiving. SAI Global’s trust index survey found that 60 per cent of consumers are more likely to regain trust in a company when it takes public responsibility for an incident, while 59 per cent of consumers say how a company notifies them of an incident is a key element to regaining trust.

In the case of Marriott, the organisation was quick to notify customers and provided free fraud consultations for US customers. To protect your reputation, an integrated response across corporate affairs and marketing is essential.

At ME Bank, marketers are responsible for determining the response when technology outages occur. We have a customer promise called ‘don’t bullshit me’ and it means that all of our correspondences to customers must:

·        Be upfront, using plain English speak,

·        Communicate details in an easily digestible way,

·        Empathise with customers.

Instead of using vague or obscure language or deflecting blame, we provide as much information as possible and are as transparent as we can be when communicating outages.

3) Build trust with compelling content

Data from a Forbes study of 1,300 people between the ages of 23–38 revealed that only 1 per cent of them think compelling advertising builds brand. Most people in this age group believe advertising is all spin and not authentic.

What does this tell us? It’s not simply about broadcasting to get eyeballs on what you’re selling. It’s trust, not exposure, that’s the social currency of today.

A report conducted in 2015 by predictive intelligence company Motista across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories revealed that emotionally connected customers are twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. And this emotional connection can be achieved via social and digital – with these channels, we have the opportunity to tell one story at a time, optimising and sequencing content over a period of time to both potential and existing customers.

ME Bank uses social media to be relevant, relatable and responsive. We use ME’s cheeky, playful voice to highlight our approach to personal banking and customer service.

Seizing on the Bunnings’ sausage sizzle outrage last year, ME Bank rolled out a 2.0 version of its April Fools’ Day Snag card to reference an iconic emblem of Australian culture and to join the conversation. It’s not what you expect from a bank, but on social media, our approach is to speak to the ‘second layer’ of our relationship with customers – the things they care about and are passionate about. Why? Because every interaction with a customer has the potential to reinforce or refute their belief that you “get them”.

4) Build trust by being authentic

The cues customer use to form beliefs about a brand’s authenticity may not always be tangible, real or even true – yet, authentic brands seem to be trusted nonetheless. Delivering an authentic brand experience is imperative to building brand trust and achieving sustainable growth in the long-term.

Authentic brands have clarity of purpose that is sincerely executed. They are perceived by customers as having remained true to their original design, evolving slowly to reflect modern times rather than changing customer fashions. Radical changes to purpose and design can lead to questions about a brand’s authenticity.

There are two ways to achieve brand authenticity:

1. Have clearly defined values that reflect where you have come from and who you are today. Importantly, be consistent in your actions to reflect these values and core beliefs.

At ME Bank, our core purpose is to ‘help all Australians get ahead’ and in line with that, we refreshed our company values to fully empower every staff member to bring their full selves into work every day.

Our values are:

Go to the moon: don’t be afraid to fail

Love Monday: love what you do and put yourself in the game every day

Have a swing: push yourself to do more than you’ve ever done before

Stay hungry: keep looking, learning and growing

Ride the subway: get out there and see what our customers see, want, dream of and aspire to

2. Provide enduring high-quality products and services that are reflective of your brand’s heritage, without deviating substantially from core attributes on which your brand was initially built.

Whether you work for a large organisation that’s been dedicated to building trust over the past decades, or a small-to-medium-sized business that’s contemplating how to grow trust, one thing remains consistent: marketers can take a leading role in building trust and organisational purpose by embedding a customer-focused mindset throughout the entire organisation.

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