Building trust through transparency: 3 tips for brands in the current market

Anson Parker provides three practical tips for brands to build trust with customers through transparency.

Trust is the foundation for all relationships: in life, in love and also in business.

Trust between brands and audiences matter even more in the current climate. During a global pandemic and an Australian recession, trust (or distrust) is not just about reputation – it has a material impact and a direct link to a company’s revenue, market value and long term sustainability.

Roy Morgan’s trust survey during the peak of Melbourne’s restrictions highlighted the retail sector as Australia’s most trusted industry, followed by supermarkets and consumer products. To go the distance, it’s time for brands of all sizes and sectors to reevaluate and build greater trust.

As a digital bank designed to help Australians organise their money and simplify their lives, trust is fundamental to Up. Operating in the financial sector, there’s a lot at stake for our customers. For us, it’s not just a question of whether people trust us enough to put money in an Up account, it’s about actively building connections and meaning.

Here are three core lessons about building trust for brands:

1. Trust comes from communication, transparency and action

Building trust is a two part proposition: clearly articulating your vision or intent and then following through with action. Simple in concept, but a cycle that needs to be repeated constantly.

Honest communications will resonate long after splashy campaigns and catchy taglines. Launching a new brand into an established market, we had to be totally transparent from day one, as we simply did not have all the features and products that a traditional big bank might offer. A willingness to admit you’re not perfect, being vulnerable and admitting your fallibility can all humanise your brand and endear you to your audience. At Up if we experience outages or glitches with features, we share this with our customers and let them know in real time what actions we’re taking to resolve those issues.

We’re also really clear on the benefits we offer. We have created a product roadmap that gives customers a guide to some of the features they can expect over the next 6-12 months. Once again, it’s a combination of intent plus action: having transparency in planning and then delivering on brand promises which builds trust over time.

But you don’t have to be trusted straight away to succeed. In our experience, some of a brand’s biggest fans started out as its toughest critics. Over time, through clear communication and action, brands can prove their worth.

Listening is a major part of communication, so feedback can tell you where needs are not being met, or where action does not align with intent. By developing new features you can find opportunities for product development and create a high level of ownership and engagement. Customers may come to you with a hostile attitude, but they can be won over by real people who talk to them, take them seriously and take action. Trust is something you earn, not something you’re given.

2. Don’t hide your humanity

Go To skincare is a textbook example of building brand love by letting the individual – the human – shine through. The essence of Zoe Foster-Blake’s humour, vivacity and cheek, flavours all of Go To’s communications, products and touchpoints. The characters in your business can add unparalleled value to your brand, but it requires a high degree of trust.

In Up’s early days, we thought we needed brand guidelines and a strict tone of voice to shape our communications, but we quickly realised that to be true to our brand pillar of ‘authenticity’ we needed to allow our team to use their own voices. We encourage our team to engage with customers (on behalf of the brand) as themselves: as engineering leads and product developers, from new hires through to the founders. Everyone retains their own identity and they communicate in style natural to them. Technology might be the facilitator, but we connect human to human, so retaining an element of the individual serves you well.

3. Don’t be afraid to let your customers free to build on your brand

Brands can drive further trust and a sense of belonging by actively opening themselves up to their community. Personalisation drives customer connection on a one to one basis, rather than a one to many basis. Through technology, streaming services like Netflix and Spotify deliver greater functionality and a unique experience to every single customer. Personalisation feeds human connection and allows individuals to feel seen and understood.

At Up, one way we have forged stronger ties and boosted trust was by putting our tools directly into the hands of our customers. In July this year, we were the first Australian financial institution to grant public access to our API, giving our customers access to their own financial data. It also opened up opportunities for personalisation and play. Within a week of launch, almost 500 customers had created their own banking features and more than 20 customer creations with the broader community via Twitter.

Modern brands meet customers where they’re at – they plug into their world, lifestyle and identities. In the footsteps of brands like Nike and Patagonia, it’s not about the product you sell but what you stand for that counts. Handing over a degree of control to audiences is not easy for brands and demands a significant display of trust, but if you’re brave enough to take the plunge, your community will reward you.

Anson Parker is head of product at Up

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.