How Can Brands Rebuild Trust in a Fake News World?

In the previous blog we discussed some of the findings of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer[1], and it wasn’t pretty. So practically, what can brands do?

The Engagement Opportunity for Rebuilding Trust

For years at Thunderhead we’ve talked about The Engagement Gap. Consumers no longer feel they can trust brands, relationships with brands have eroded away.  Trust is a foundational pillar of customer engagement – without trust there is no engagement. The trust crisis exposed in the Edelman report reveals a gap between customers and brands that is getting steadily wider.

Trust is a key element of customer engagement, and at Thunderhead we see trust as foundational: we define customer engagement as: “an on-going, value-driven relationship between a customer and a business, which is consciously motivated according to the customer’s reasons and choices …. built through the ability of the customer and the business to derive value from the relationship over time … – value creation over time builds trust, and the accumulation of trust … builds engagement.”

So, where to start?

1. Building trust is the No. 1 priority of CEOs.

Our CEO Glen Manchester wrote at the end of 2017[2] about the need to take the long view, because it’s over the long term that value and trust, the foundation of a relationship between a brand a customer, are built. [3] And as Rory Sutherland observed in a recent article, “when a business focuses more narrowly on short-term profit maximisation, it will appear less and less trustworthy to its customers” (The Marketing Society – “The Shadow of The Future” [4]).

As trust becomes a CEO’s top priority, so must establishing customer trust move to the very top of the CMO’s thinking, brands must build trust back into customer relationships.

2. Think twice about brand safety

Do you really want to put your brand on a platform which your customers no longer trust? And can you be sure your brand won’t appear in a context which is appropriate and relevant for your customers and your brand? Platform providers are going to have to work hard in 2018 to prove they’re still relevant and trustworthy to brands and consumers alike. In any programmatic plans scrutinise the detail, ask if you can trust them, and keep an eye on how much Social Media platforms are acting on ‘fake’ news feeds.

3. Be honest

Make sure your advertising doesn’t mislead or oversell. Not just because that’s the law, but in order to make sure you build trustworthy connections from the start of your relationships with customers. To help build trust, when you execute your digital advertising plans, stick to your brand values and if you make promises to your customers then make sure you keep them.

4. Use GDPR as a mechanism to build trust

GDPR is an opportunity to establish trust. If you’re a brand who is openly, actively, transparently acting on reassuring your customers about their information privacy and security you will help to build trust. John Lewis PLC in the UK have created a data map to demonstrate this, it’s a great example.

Contextual privacy is where the collection and use of a customer’s personal data by a brand has a customer’s consent within an agreed context for a specific purpose, to be used to mutual benefit. Moreover, if current privacy concerns reflect the lack of trust customers have, then in the future, improved contextual privacy will improve the trust people have in brands. Forrester predicts that by 2020 “customer-obsessed firms will recognize contextual privacy as a competitive differentiator for long-term loyalty.”[5] A customer engagement platform will be able to understand the different contexts for a customer at any given point in time, on any touchpoint, channel or device, and be able to deliver a contextual privacy experience, further reinforcing a stronger, longer relationship with trust.

5. Trust is a Team Effort

No work is more important than re-establishing trust. No one institution will succeed in rebuilding trust on its own. Business and CEOs have a critical role to play, along with NGOs, platforms, media and government.

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, put it well: “Our job as CEOs now includes driving what we think is right. It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.” [6]

There is no shortcut when it comes to rebuilding trust. Everyone needs to work together to find a new foothold with the public, one that is firmly grounded in a commitment to truth.

Why Trust Thunderhead?

There’s a lot of hot air in the market right now, making it harder to sort fake news and hot air from the truth, to figure out what’s out there to help you improve your relationships with your customers.

At Thunderhead we really understand customer engagement, we’re not hiding behind a wall of bluff. We did a piece of research[7] with 2000 US and 2000 UK consumers, and wrote a 30-page report on the findings, which we called Engagement 3.0, The Book on Customer Engagement, the most substantial and influential research around customer engagement. We reviewed and analysed the primary data and research and developed a Customer Engagement model based on that. The model is a strategic framework which outlines the fundamental building blocks necessary to enable organisations to plan for, manage and deliver customer engagement. We have since honed and refined this theory working with some of the world’s most successful and highly regarded brands to help them successfully build long term customer relationships and trust.


[1] 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer 

[2] Customer Engagement and The Long View, blog by Glen Manchester

[3] Customer Engagement and The Long view

[4] The Marketing Society The Shadow of the Future 

[5] Top 10 Technology Trends To Watch: Forrester Research

[6] 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer 

[7] Thunderhead Engagement 3.0