How Does a Brand Regain Consumer Trust After a Crisis?

David Aaker
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

What? Brands must constantly maintain their relationships and fidelity with consumers.

So what? Crises can't be the only reason brands promote themselves as trustworthy.

Now what? Brands must employ messaging and programming that embodies a higher purpose than turning a profit.

​April 4, 2017
 

Crisis communications can’t be the only tactic firms use to smooth over breaches of customer trust. They need to deploy a thoughtful combination of programs and messaging that conveys a higher purpose.

 

What can be done to regain brand trust when it has been damaged by a real or perceived misstep? What preventative measures can be taken to create an organization where such errors are less likely, and customer understanding and forgiveness is more likely? Many brands have faced this challenge, some very recently, such as Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, Toshiba and Samsung.

There are many tactical prescriptions for dealing with a trust-damaging crisis, but there should also be an effort to change the conversation, to have something to talk about besides the crisis. Toward that end, there are three courses of action brands should take to address or prevent a crisis:

  1. Create a higher-purpose mission, value set or culture that will enable the organization to have meaning apart from generating sales and profits.

  2. Develop a higher-purpose program that not only engenders trust but can redirect the discussion during a crisis incident. This should be branded and leverage the organization’s people and assets toward social good.

  3. Distribute messages about the brand’s higher purpose using stories of real people.

A case study written by Tom Roach of BBH London describes Barclays’ response to its brand crisis following the 2009 financial crash.

In June 2012, the brand received a fine for falsely reporting the interest rates it was paying to other banks, which made its financial position appear better than it was. Although many global banks were investigated and punished for doing the same thing, Barclays was the first and assumed to be partially responsible for the financial collapse. 


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The result was a plunge in Barclays’ trust level as measured by the Millward Brown brand tracking study. Already low, it plummeted during 2011 and 2012 by 40% (compared to 9% among competitors). Barclays, the least-trusted brand in the least-trusted sector, decided to change.

A New Brand Purpose

In February 2013, the Barclays Group CEO announced that the company would dramatically change and assume a new brand purpose: “Helping people achieve their ambitions—in the right way.” To support the new brand purpose, Barclays developed five brand values, including respect for employees and stewardship. A new evaluation system and extensive training of 140,000 employees linked to the new brand purpose transformed the culture of the firm.

New Programs

The newly empowered and inspired employees created and led dozens of higher-purpose programs on their own. One, created by 12 colleagues calling themselves the Digital Eagles, centered on upgrading employees who were lagging in digital skills. The program now has 12,000 employees involved and has expanded to teach those in the public about thriving in the digital world. They sponsor “Tea and Teach” sessions where people can learn in informal settings. The Digital Eagles also have an online program called Digital Wings that allows people to grow from “newbie” to “brainbox” levels in a series of courses.

 

 Barclays LifeSkills Ad

 

Another set of employees helped bring the bank into the Dementia Friends framework so customers with memory issues could be served. There is the “Banking on Change” program, which partners with two charities that encourage people in underdeveloped countries. The benefactors, who typically live on less than $2 a day, learn to take a savings-led approach to microfinance. In six years, the program reached 750,000 people who saved an average of $58.

New Communication

Product-based communication was replaced in June of 2014 by a campaign to shine a light on Barclays’ higher-purpose initiatives using, where possible, real stories of real people. The focus was on four programs under an umbrella concept: making sure that everyone is moving forward in the digital revolution and no one is left behind. In addition to Digital Eagles, three other programs were featured.

Life Skills gives young people the skills they need to get jobs in a digital workplace using a free, in-school and online learning program. Fraud Smart gives free help and advice to people who need to keep money secure in a digital world. The Code Playground teaches kids ages 7 to 17 the basics of computer coding in Barclays branches.

The stories made the difference. Steve Rich, 50, lost his ability to play soccer because of a car accident but could play a modified walking version of the game and again experience the wonderful feelings that came with participating. He wanted to give as many people as possible the chance to share in that feeling. Inspired by a 2014 Barclays Digital Eagles TV advertisement, he decided to turn the adaptive sport into a nationwide game and raise awareness. With the help of Digital Eagles, Steve created a website that connected more than 400 teams across the country. “Through Barclays Digital Eagles I’ve even managed to get in touch with some of my old football mates who turned up for the game,” Rich says. “I’m very grateful that Walking Football has helped me continue my passion for the beautiful game.”

 

 Barclays Digital Eagles Promote Walking Football

 

A woman named Zena tells of her son Paris preparing for the workforce with LifeSkills. It started with the Wheel of Strengths. After identifying the strengths, interest and personality traits that best describe Paris, the types of jobs he is best-suited for were suggested. Then came the résumé building with guidance and tips to format a résumé that will be compelling and relevant and a structure that made it easy to create. Finally, there was the mock interview activity with a chance to practice that pushed him to think about likely questions and provide the critical confidence level. The result was an interview with one of his top target firms.

From the start of the campaign in the summer of 2014 until early 2016 most key indicators of customer relations were up. In particular, trust was up 33%, emotional connection was up 35%, net promotor score was up 300%, and consideration was up 130%.

The result was dramatically different than that experienced during the previous product campaign. For example, the new campaign drove six times as much trust gain and five times as much consideration as the product-focused campaign. The four programs also featured large measured responses. The Digital Eagles effort and the Code Playground campaigns each resulted in more than 120,000 unique visitors to the webpage and 1.5 million video views. Since the campaign, these numbers are many times higher. The press is also less critical. By 2015 Barclays received 5,000 positive mentions in the press, including 600 mentions about Life Skills.

Barclays recovered brand trust by deploying a culture change that empowered and inspired employees to create higher-purpose programs brought to light with real people’s stories.


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Author Bio:

 
David Aaker
David Aaker is vice chairman of San Francisco-based marketing consultancy Prophet and author of Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success.
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