Rebuilding brand trust

How being vulnerable and admitting mistakes restores brand credibility
surrendering to changeEveryone makes mistakes. All businesses make mistakes. Failing is part of the human condition and yet in business life a lot of energy is spent avoiding admitting our failures. Whether it’s defensively justifying actions or processes that went awry or blaming someone else, another company or an external event, glossing over the truth of what went wrong is the prevalent culture in many organisations.

From Enron to BP and the many financial institutions that came undone during the Global Financial Crisis, it is not surprising that brand trust is declining, particularly in western companies. According to the Edelman 2011 Trust Barometer, trust in business in the U.S. and the UK is around 45%.

So what can be done differently? How can brands rebuild trust with their stakeholders? Surely it can’t be as simple as admitting our mistakes – as telling the truth? Well, it turns out customers, employees and shareholders are more forgiving and loyal when they are informed about mistakes. The very act of telling the truth about what went wrong is humbling. It opens up an avenue to explore alternative ways for the future; it increases innovation and adaptability.

Counter intuitively when individuals or companies are vulnerable, their inner strength and resilience is revealed. It takes courage to be vulnerable and people can tell when we are being genuine in admitting our mistakes. Honesty builds brand trust and advocacy.

Even when an organisation fears that it will lose revenue, commercial relationships or contracts if they tell the truth, they will in fact lose all these things when they lie. Even small lies and untruths ultimately have big repercussions. An organisation that is not comfortable to authentically own and admit to its mistakes and failures is an organisation that is underpinned by a culture of fear.

Even when there are risks and possible commercial consequences, telling the truth and being a trustworthy organisation is a long-term investment in creating brand sustainability. Brands who rely on small or large lies or cover-ups are building a culture of fear and distrust. This pervades both internal and external communications and eventually result in employees not trusting their managers and customers not trusting their supplier.

So, tell the truth – it’s liberating! Admit mistakes and failures and tell employees, customers and shareholders what the business will do differently in the future. Truth telling is the ultimate path for brands to rebuild lasting trust with all stakeholders.

As a co-author with Vanessa Hall of the book The Truth About Trust In Business, it is exciting that Vanessa’s passion has inspired the International Day of Trust, which I recommend to individuals and organisations, who want to build brand sustainability.

Written By Fiona Pearman 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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Shared with permission of Fiona Pearman, Brand Illumination Pty Limited.    T +61 2 9973 2696

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