Trust, Love, and the Journey to Become Someone’s Favorite Brand
Every good relationship is built on two fundamental pillars: trust and love.
It’s as true in the marketing world as it is on Love is Blind (anyone else’s quarantine binge-watch of choice?). For a relationship to succeed, the parties need to trust one another: they need to demonstrate honesty, reliability, and fidelity. But trust alone isn’t enough to prompt two strangers to say “I do” after five weeks of knowing each other, and it’s not enough to convert a reliable customer into a loyal brand advocate. To take those particular leaps of faith, something far more ineffable is necessary: love.
As marketers, it’s our goal to earn both trust and love from our customers. If we want to be their favorite brand, we can’t just have one or the other. You can trust someone or something without loving them (I trust my dentist, but I don’t love him). You can even love someone or something without trusting them (please see: this Prince classic). For a lasting, favorite relationship, we need both.
For brands, trust is the primary, pivotal building block in forging a positive relationship with customers. Here’s the definition of trust we’re working with, from dictionary.com:
Trust (noun): Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
For brands, trust should be table stakes. Every brand should create a reliable experience. Customers should be able to trust in the tacit contract that exists when they purchase a product or service from a brand: that it works, that they will be able to access it, and that it was created legally and with integrity.
According to the 2020 Most Trusted Brands report from Morning Consult, these are the top five most trusted brands in America:
1. United States Postal Service
5. The Weather Channel
And according to this same report, Americans are primed to trust brands. Despite a prevalent distrust of “corporate America,” 74% of Americans trust companies to deliver on what they promise. More than half (55%) of respondents said that for companies to lose trust, they would have to do something wrong. For American consumers, it seems that the standard assumption is that brands are trustworthy until proven otherwise.
But trust doesn’t automatically equate to love.
The most-trusted brand in this survey exemplifies the disconnect between trust and love. Do I trust the postal service? Certainly. Do I love the post office? Uh, no. And taking it one step further: is the USPS my favorite brand? No, of course not. Why would it be?
That’s the question for brands. Why would it be? How can trust — even deep trust — turn into love? What would you need to do to make customers call you their favorite brand?
My own interactions with the USPS are highly transactional. If I have a letter or a package to send, I know that I can trust them to get it to where it needs to go. Theirs is a highly relevant, highly important service, and they’re good at what they do. But as soon as I’ve dropped my letter into the mailbox or picked up my package, I don’t think about the postal service again. I’m done, until the next time I need to send or receive mail. There’s no love there — nothing transformative or particularly resonant for my daily life. There’s just a transaction and — sure — trust.
Over my many, many years of interacting with the postal service, there have been brief shining moments of something that feels kind of like love: When the jovial postal clerk absolutely insisted that I take a handful of red and green Hershey’s kisses from the bowl at her station when I was mailing Christmas cards. When I ran into my neighborhood mail carrier and he asked if I’d enjoyed my vacation, because he’d noticed the mailbox filling up for a few days and had wondered where I was. When another friendly clerk proactively asked if I’d like her to hand-cancel my wedding invitations, then offered beaming best wishes when I said yes.
Even months and years later, I remember these lovable interactions, because they were personal to me. But they were mostly the result of good-natured individuals within the USPS, not necessarily a reflection of systemic practices by the organization as a whole. I remember those moments because I remember the nice people who created those memories. They don’t endear the postal service as a whole to me; rather, my interactions with the post office have for the most part been pretty nondescript, and sometimes a little boring (why is there always a line?), if reliable.
Can Trust Become Love?
Contrast this with my feelings toward Amazon, the runner up most-trusted brand in this report. Up until a few years ago, my feelings toward Amazon and the USPS were largely identical. I certainly trusted Amazon to stock items I needed at a reasonable price and deliver them to me when they said they would. Once I’d received my items and the transaction was complete, I’d forget about Amazon until I needed something else that I couldn’t purchase in person.
Two years ago, though, I signed up for Amazon Prime, which comes with a host of benefits including free shipping, expedited delivery times, unlimited reading, and Amazon streaming services. Even I am surprised by how much I’ve now come to love Amazon. The company has certainly made my life easier with low prices and insanely fast delivery, gotten me out of a pickle or two (thanks for the in-the-nick-of-time pre-Thanksgiving turkey brining bags, Amazon!), and kept me entertained with books and shows. Amazon has ceased to be a company with which I complete a series of transactions. Instead, it has become a company that has made a transformative impact on my life. Amazon has directly made my day-to-day more frictionless, more entertaining, and even — at the risk of sounding too cheesy — more fun. Moreover, it’s made that transformative impact systematic. Those same principles — removing friction, adding entertainment — are institutionalized traits, not one-offs.
Amazon took my trust and elevated it, offering me services and — more importantly — experiences that cemented the brand in my mind as a favorite. That’s something other perennially best-loved brands do, too: companies like Disney, and Hershey, and Trader Joe’s. They’ve nailed the trust element — consumers know what they’re getting when they interact with each brand, and they have a rightful expectation of quality and consistency that’s almost always met — but they’ve also delivered something more. They’ve created an experience or community that transcends their products, and which keeps customers calling them “favorites” year after year. What has won customers’ love? Disney’s sense of magic. Hershey’s commitment to happiness. Trader Joe’s quirkiness. Each of these companies’ superior customer service. An unfailing commitment to these traits, in deeds as well as in words, has allowed the companies to win both trust and love from their customers.
Here’s where these companies thrive, while the USPS remains trusted but unloved: they prioritize something beyond the transaction that got the customer (er, me) to interact with them in the first place. When I go to the post office, once the transaction is done, I’m done. That’s not the case with these other brands. Once I’ve purchased my turkey brining bags on Amazon, I close my browser…for a time. But then I might reopen it later in the evening to browse new books or stream a show. Likewise, when customers interact with Disney, they’re not just purchasing tickets to a theme park or DVDs of cartoons. Instead, they’re buying access to a magical, transformative experience for themselves and their families.
In the past, I’ve waxed poetic about my love for Trader Joe’s. At first glance, that relationship seems highly transactional: I need groceries, I buy groceries, I’m done. But that’s not what actually happens. As a Trader Joe’s superfan, when I visit the store, it feels like an experience. Before I go, I’ll scour blog posts and roundups from other superfans who recommend the best snacks to buy or meals to make by combining proprietary TJ’s products. I love taking my time in each aisle and finding new items that could become favorites, and I appreciate the consistently friendly and solicitous “crew members” with whom I interact when I have a question or in the checkout line.
How has Trader Joe’s elevated this transactional experience into something transformative? Largely by developing — and sticking to — a brand personality that I like, by embracing the quirkiness that sets them apart, by clearly valuing good people and treating them well, and by showcasing proprietary food products from around the world to keep my grocery list interesting. For me, trips to Trader Joe’s have surpassed the transactional — they’ve become personal treats. (I swear, this isn’t an ad for Trader Joe’s. I just really like that brand.)
Customers’ favorite companies transcend the transactional as they strive to develop a relationship with customers that feels personal. When they do that well, in a way that reduces friction, increases entertainment, and/or drives personal development for the customer, that can breed love.
And what, exactly, do we mean by “love?” Here’s the dictionary.com definition we’re using:
Love (noun): A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.
For most brands, making that subtle but essential shift from trust to love takes both creativity and time. It takes having a distinct personality and purpose. It takes creating an experience that yields deep affection — not just pleasant surprise or lukewarm approval. It takes connecting with customers on a personal level.
Getting there takes time. You can’t expect your customers to be in love with you immediately. Love takes time (lawdamercy, if that isn’t something I learned from bingeing Love is Blind). That’s why we feel that a podcast or a video show is the best way to start on the path toward attaining the trust and love you need from your customers. Those media allow brands to reinforce the trust that should already exist between them and their customers. They also allow brands to build toward love, by offering a deeper experience that’s more transformational than transactional. Shows insist that audiences spend time listening to or watching them. The best ones — the favorite ones — use that time wisely, developing the personal attachment and deep affection that can bloom into love.
Plan for this slow burn. Win your audience’s trust, then let them marinate in it as you clear the path you know they need to take to get to love. This will not be a one-and-done endeavor. This will take weeks and months of effort: of working to understand what your customers want and need. Of setting the right goals and aspirations for your show. Of surprising your audience to keep your show refreshing, while maintaining the principles that make it consistent and reliable. Of battling the constant desire to make something easy and transactional vs. difficult and transformational. It will take time, but you can get there. You can focus on making their favorite show, so you can in turn be their favorite brand.
And once you get there, once you’ve amassed a group of people for whom you are the favorite, you’ll need to remember another important truth: not everyone will love you, nor should they. You can’t be everyone’s favorite. True love has a way of narrowing the field, ensuring that only the most like-minded keep coming back.
That’s a good thing. You don’t want to create something that has mild appeal for a wide swath of people; you want to create something that has unprecedented appeal for a select few. Once you’ve gained your audience’s love, you need to understand why you’ve earned it. If you tweak something with the goal of gaining love from more people, you put yourself at risk of losing the original core.
As marketers, we’re no longer trying to make things — shows, campaigns, experiences — that are “good enough.” That doesn’t work anymore. Discerning customers and crowded airwaves have pushed us to make favorites: the products and experiences both trusted and best-loved by a passionate group of fans. Make this your new goal. Make this your mission. Make their favorite show, so you can be their favorite brand.
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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