How to Build Brand Trust

By Leslie Sonnenklar | July 14, 2020

How to Build Brand Trust SOCIAL-min

The purpose of much of PR and marketing is to build trust by establishing credibility for a brand. It’s not something that happens overnight; however, it can be destroyed overnight. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. In this article, I’ll discuss ways you can build trust for your brand in addition to what you can do if you somehow lose that trust.

What Customers Look For In A Brand

Consumers have so many choices these days so how can a brand stand out?

  • Authenticity is key. If consumers believe what you are saying, you’ve won half the battle. So, how do you show authenticity? One way is to be consistent in your messaging. Be very strategic in what information you circulate and don’t stray from the messaging. People need to know what to expect with regards to your brand.
  • Be transparent. Don’t tell half the story or hide facts. Be real, be matter of fact, and let your customers (and employees) know you are an open book with regards to business practices, strategy, goals, and company philosophies.
  • Connect with your audience. This is easily done via social media. Engage in conversation online and ask your audience for their opinion. It shows you are listening and that you care what they think. Respond to complaints immediately. Many times, people just want to be acknowledged.
  • Communicate your company’s core values. This is very important. Your customers need to know what you believe in, what you stand for, and that you stay true to those values regardless of the situation. According to a 2018 study by Accenture Strategy, 63% of global consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs and will avoid companies that don’t.

Tactics You Can Employ

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing has taken the world by storm! According to the Digital Marketing Institute, almost half of consumers “depend on influencer recommendations” to determine which products to purchase. This is due to the fact that people trust people. While advertising is good for visibility and building brand awareness, brand trust is also built through third-party endorsements. Influencer marketing is quickly becoming the most cost-effective way of obtaining new customers.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR is another way in which companies can build trust among customers, and employees for that matter. CSR allows a company to show that they take a stand on issues that matter such as the environment, diversity and labor practices, charitable causes, and commitment to the community in which they serve. CSR builds brand loyalty. As mentioned above, customers prefer to purchase products from companies that share their values and demonstrate commitment to their community.

Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is becoming more and more important in separating yourself from the competition. It demonstrates you are an expert in your field, which builds credibility and ultimately leads to building trust. Thought leadership can be demonstrated through authored articles, whitepapers, or videos. Be a resource—provide personal experience as well as best practices that support your company’s goals.


Applying and winning awards provides yet another third-party endorsement which increases credibility. When a company can tout winning an award, it not only provides an industry benchmark, but it improves employee morale which increases productivity and likely leads to favorable name recognition. Winning awards can also be an opportunity to secure publicity which once again builds trust.

How Brands Can Lose Trust In An Instant

What is Crisis Communications?

What can take time to build can be lost in an instant. Shift Communications best describes crisis communications as putting out a fire.

“A fire requires three things to burn – heat (energy), fuel, and oxygen or a catalyst like oxygen (speed). Take away any one of those elements and the fire goes out. In a crisis communications situation, something has gone wrong and your brand is on fire. There’s the something you did or something you’re responsible for – the fuel. There’s the tide of public opinion – the heat, the energy. There’s your speed of reaction to it – the catalyst. As with real fires, if you deny the fire any one of these sources, you break the chain reaction that causes fire and it burns itself out.”

What is a Crisis Plan?

In order to mitigate the damage of the fire, you must have a crisis plan in place. How you respond to the crisis will determine the level of damage. The plan should address the following:

  • Identify the crisis team including the company spokesperson
  • Draft key brand messaging (this may be modified a bit depending on the nature of the crisis)
  • Define how information will be communicated both internally and externally
  • Establish how inquiries and feedback will be handled

Companies aren’t perfect, so it’s inevitable that a crisis may come up at one point or another. How you react to it will determine the future of your brand and how quickly you recover. Quick action, transparency, authenticity, sincerity, and often times, admitting fault followed by an apology, will minimize the damage. The more you try to cover up the mistake or defend it, the more damage done.

Lessons Learned from KFC

One of my all-time favorite PR crisis situations was when KFC ran out of chicken in their UK and Ireland locations in 2018. It turned out there was a breakdown in the restaurant’s supply chain and no contingency plan should something like this occur. Not something you’d expect from a brand of this magnitude, that’s for sure.

While this is clearly an enormous gaff, the chicken company went to work and came up with a genius way to mitigate the damage and even ended up with a slew of positive publicity on how they handled the situation. The fact that they were out of chicken soon took a back seat to their incredible handling of the crisis.

Rather than drafting a robotic corporate statement, KFC knew they needed to remain true to their brand personality. KFC didn’t deflect or place blame, but rather took it head on and said they screwed up in a big way. To show this screw up they introduced a new ad campaign rearranging the KFC letters on the bucket to FCK. This demonstrated that they were taking ownership of the screw up and staying true to their brand by being lighthearted and mocking themselves.

KFC reacted quickly, stayed true to their brand, and showed vulnerability. “It gave us a way of saying sorry in a bold and human way, and in a way that felt true to our brand,” said Jenny Packwood head of brand engagement for KFC. “Basically, this is what we were all saying in the office all the time – ‘fuck’ – it also resonated with consumers and disarmed the issue a bit.”

We Must Build Trust


Building trust on behalf of your brand is increasingly important. Consumers have so many choices these days and are therefore basing their buying decisions on more emotional factors. Public relations must now go beyond traditional pitching and media relations and incorporate tactics that build trust and demonstrate commitment to the community.