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Rebuilding brand trust in an era of scepticism

GWI’s March Zeitgeist survey results show that consumer trust is on the decline and there are a series of themes that are more likely to erode trust than others. In this article, our strategy director Gill has looked at the strategies businesses can employ to build consumer trust and ultimately a more successful business too.

Over the ups and downs of the last few years, the trust once placed upon organisations such as banks, corporations, news outlets, social media platforms, and governments has steadily eroded. The seismic shift in consumer attitudes and behaviours during the pandemic has created an underpinned belief that trust is no longer assumed but must be earned and maintained.

Consumers have more ways to engage and shape their opinions than ever before, making it difficult to control a brand narrative. This is why trust must come from the inside out, led with authenticity and by placing the customer at the heart of the business.

In this article we look at what consumers care about in establishing trust and how organisations can build and maintain it in an environment where it has become a scarce commodity.

The Decline of Trust: Understanding the Landscape

If we look specifically at the last year, there has been a noticeable decline in consumer trust across various sectors. 2023 was the year where the Post Office paid £1.6m in bonuses to execs whilst their staff “experienced the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history” and oil companies paid record bonuses while millions of households were plunged into the cost-of-living crisis which has seen consumers being generally less well off than they were two years ago.

This lack of financial security, coupled with data breaches, government misinformation and ethical lapses have fuelled an erosion of trust. Consumers are increasingly wary of the motivations and actions of the organisations they engage with, leading to a heightened demand for transparency, authenticity, and accountability.

Rebuilding Trust – 5 pillars

GWI’s March consumer survey results show that there are a series of pillars that are most likely to erode trust. Here we have assessed what it takes to build trust within each of the pillars and provided ideas to begin developing trusted consumer relationships:

1. Product Quality

It goes without saying that ensuring the quality and reliability of products and services is paramount. But in an economy where all businesses need to do more, with less, this is difficult. Consumers expect products that deliver value and when they see the cost of that product going up, without additional value it can be a difficult pill to swallow.

Whilst investing in product development isn’t necessarily an option for all businesses, bear in mind that due to the extent of the channels of engagement, ‘product’ extends beyond the physical and into the many other channels that they engage with a brand on. Consider what the audience care about (the four following pillars are a good place to start) and develop product strategies and communications around that. (And if you need any further help, give me a shout.)

2. Treatment of Employees

The treatment of employees reflects an organisation’s culture. Culture, brand positioning and status have always been important for consumers, but the treatment of staff is an unwavering reflection of how a business behaves and makes decisions. A satisfied and empowered workforce are a business’s best ally, they not only enhance productivity but also foster trust with consumers through their attitude to work, whether it be their approach to customer service or their consistency and tenure.

This is not only about what staff are paid, at a time when it’s difficult for some businesses to prioritise pay increases as their below the line costs expand, businesses can consider other benefits which may help their team feel more empowered and engaged:

Gather feedback: ask staff what they care about. Develop cultural, environmental, social, and business strategies around those pillars to develop a brand founded on the change makers within the business.

Help staff manage their own expanding costs: Without financial safety, it can be difficult to achieve more progressive goals. As we’ve said, this might be difficult for businesses feeling the financial pinch but consider strategies like flexible and remote working options which would give carers autonomy in managing the wrap around care they may need. And as our population ages, this expands beyond parents with school-age children. Or the likes of Octopus Money, it is a relatively low-cost benefit being offered by Octopus in helping businesses to help their staff manage their financial well-being and achieve their financial goals.

Motivate through purpose: In many organisations, those leading do so because they are good at their job, not because they are great leaders. Encourage leaders within a business to develop their leadership skills to make it easier to achieve business goals by empowering the workforce to collaborate on them. And the behaviours of all leaders will uphold a culture of integrity, honesty, and accountability through ethical leadership.

3. Customer Service/Experience

Exceptional customer service and experience are powerful drivers of trust and loyalty. If we couple this with the previous point about the treatment of employees, it’s clear how strategies in these areas can compliment each other in building trust with consumers.

Outside of customer service staff offering exceptional customer service, also consider the wider customer experience. Prioritise timely communication, personalised interactions, prompt resolution of customer queries/issues and rewarding loyalty. Investing in customer experience mapping to support those engagement channels and training of customer-facing staff, can help enhance the overall customer experience and foster trust.

4. Data Usage

September 2023 saw one of the largest data breaches in UK history, with a breach of 3.8bn records. In an age where data privacy concerns loom large, it’s unsurprising that responsible data usage is a non-negotiable trust builder for consumers.

Organisations must adopt transparent consumer data policies and implementing robust data protection measures, and respect user preferences regarding data usage.  Be transparent about business practices and, if those need to change at any point, explain the decision-making processes. Authenticity builds credibility, transparency and most importantly, trust.

5. Support of societal issues

Consumers are increasingly conscious of the long-term impact of their consumption choices on society and the environment. They prefer to support businesses that demonstrate a commitment to addressing societal challenges and contributing to positive social change. However, the social issues that matter to target audiences can vary from business to business so gathering insight on their attitudes is important to long-term business success. Similarly, consider staff, they can have a huge impact on the social issues chosen to address, so finding a cross-section between the desires of the target audience and staff will have the biggest impact not just socially but on trust levels too.

Where to begin?

Rebuilding trust requires a holistic approach that considers ethical practices, employee empowerment, customer-centricity, and a commitment to addressing societal challenges.

By taking each of the five pillars as individual project groups and placing the customer at the heart of the decision-making process, organisations can begin to cultivate trust and lay the foundation for long-term success: for business and the world we live in.


GWI Zeitgeist March 2024

The Guardian Business Jan 2024 (

The Guardian Politics April 2024 (

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About the author

Gill has over 15 years of agency experience spanning the utilities, financial, arts, charity, and museum sectors. In her work, Gill brings a unique blend of audience insight and business leadership knowledge to support LEWIS’ clients to make an impact both internally and externally.

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