Rahul Sachitanand
Jun 7, 2021

It's unfair to place brand trust solely on the CMO's shoulders

Trust has to be something that's tied to the mission and the vision of the company, not siloed into one department.

It's unfair to place brand trust solely on the CMO's shoulders

According to a recent Edelman Trust survey, consumers in APAC are more likely to choose a brand based on trust—even over price and other considerations. With trust becoming a critical factor in purchase decisions, brands need to ensure they are delivering on expectations and projecting values that are trustworthy and transparent. 

But should the responsibility for brand trust, something that encompasses an entire organisation, be laid at the door of the CMO? Or should it be an organisation-wide responsibility? Especially given frozen or slashed marketing budgets that marketers are having to deal with, is it fair to burden them entirely with brand trust? Speakers at a session on consumer shifts, trust and shaping culture in Asia-Pacific, held as part of Campaign Connect 2021, were emphatic that the responsibility for this ever-increasing factor couldn't be the remit of the CMO alone. 


“We don't believe that a brand can earn trust solely through marketing spend," Ken Mandel, regional MD and head of Grab Ads said on this panel. "Ultimately trust needs to be from the board and the CEO all the way through the organisation." He said, and other speakers agreed, that while marketing could help build brand trust, it was unfair to weigh down the marketing chief with this responsibility. "Trust has to be something that's tied to the mission and the vision of the company," Mandel added.

As trust takes centre stage, it is important for brands and agencies to engage and make sure this facet is front and centre to their business, said Dominic Powers, APAC head of growth for Dentsu. "If you start to look at this generational shift... Gen Z to a certain extent is far more activism-led, so they have less loyalty, which also means they have less trust. So you can't engage in the same way that you might have done with millennials or the baby boomers. You have to constantly have this front and centre, it can't be a once a year thing that you do."

The challenge for markers and agencies is how the immediate access to technology and social media has only made it easier for consumers to sense and call out weakening or broken brand trust. "What we have seen is the nature of social media means that consumers almost have instant access to anything that they want with their brands, at any time, anywhere," said Ting Pang, head of client solutions for Southeast Asia at Twitter.

Some brands have used this to great effect. For example, on Twitter, Apple support has used its handle (@applesupport), to reach out directly to its customers. The handle is dedicated to the support account and this has significantly reduced the company's response times to just a couple of minutes, Pang said. 

With these changes, brand storytelling is evolving too, explained Nicola Eliot, vice president of BBC Storyworks. "In terms of storytelling [the important thing] is not to try and tell a story that you aren't authentically around or, or even be around a story that you don't have an honest way to connect with," she said. "Consumers are very savvy now. And they will see through it and very quickly find out whether you are authentic about your story or not."

However, telling these stories of trust may be easier said than done, contended Dentsu's Powers. The demise of the third-party cookie and the rise of first-party data, a seismic event for marketers, could also shake up trust for several brands. "I think that what consumers experience online over the next six months is going to be impacted as brands are trying to get access to them as individuals," he said. "There is going to be tremendous pressure put on the shoulders of marketers as they look to ensure that brands can continue to do great things that they've been doing previously, before this cookie apocalypse."

Eliot said that in her platform's case, once you have that relationship of trust, then people are willing to engage with you. They want the better experience, and they want to choose to provide data in order that their experience of working with a brand is as optimal as it it can be. "I definitely think trust is the priority there," she added. "And that naturally leads to a much more seamless journey with relationships with your consumers and for things like first-party data."


Grab's Covid vaccine initiative in Indonesia. (Grab)

Organisations may find many ways to build their brand trust. For instance, in the case of Grab, which has grown from being a ride-hailing venture to a super app, the opportunity to build trust involves leaning on existing networks. "In Indonesia, we're actually helping administer vaccines. ... That's not really our core business, obviously," says Grab's Mandel. "But we have the logistics, understand operations [and] we have to protect our partners, our drivers, our eaters, everybody in the ecosystem." Rather than immediate payoffs, Grab is working on "building a multi-generational company", Mandel added. In that light, "trust is a long-term investment, but it's well worth it".

While brands may be scaling up their interest and investments, Twitter's Pang contended that breaking trust is much easier than actually building it up. "Simple things like non-existent customer service online or even a lacklustre customer support [can reduce trust]," she explained. "When there are gaps or discrepancies between advertising, messaging, and also actual experience or action that the consumers receive, trust gets eroded." 

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