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Digital Marketing in 2019 – The Importance of Trust

This is a guest contribution from Dr Elvira Bolat who is a Principle Academic in Digital Marketing at the Business School of Bournemouth University. Dr Bolat teaches marketing, conducts research and provides consultancy around the digital marketing domain.

We live in a post-truth world. A world characterised by consumer cynicism. This is thanks to the likes of fake news and digital stories that can be merely stories without facts. A world where a single tweet, social media post or digital story can represent a truth.

What does this mean for businesses and brands? In a world where digital presence is unavoidable, this makes every single business, brand and individual vulnerable. After all, one negative social media post can trigger contagious distrust. In turn, this can damage reputation and decrease profits.

This is where the importance of trust repair comes into play.

But first, how important is trust for business?


According to Forbes, trust is the glue to society. This is the very foundation of relationships.

However, in our recent research project we found that the consumer’s love for a brand helps maintain trust levels. Even in cases of negative incidents. Think back to Starbuck’s racial bias incident in April 2018. Or the large HR crises at Sports Direct in which employees were mistreated. This incident didn’t badly affect the company.

So, when is trust important?

We found that trust is important when businesses wish to take their customers from the acquisition stage to the retention stage. Where the plan is to keep a customer engaged with the brand. Here, trust is required to build bonds and relationships. This means positive thoughts, emotions and actions towards the business are necessary.

Let’s look at the case of Starbucks. The famous coffee house valued trust and the relationships with their stakeholders. They took immediate action to restoring damaged trust. How? By simply acknowledging the issues. Firstly they apologised. Then they conducted a worldwide racial bias training for their employees.

This is very different to the HSBC case. The bank failed to be part of the Apple Pay launch. Despite all their promises.

Brandwatch conducted a study of HSBC-related tweets at the time. They showed that there were 1 in 5 negative messages about the bank. It clearly highlights that trust was eroded.

Trust affects what customers think about your brand and businesses.

This doesn’t necessary lessen profits. It does however affect consumer’s emotions towards a business. In the long run, this affects their actions. It can also damage the sustainability of your business.

What causes loss of trust?

Trust is eroded when negative incidents occur. These can include:

  • Product failure
  • Issues with your partners
  • Miscommunication

In instances such as negative tweets, business will usually continue as usual.

Trust erosion can take place when consumers begin to question:

The competence of your business.

  • This is a basic condition to trust. Think about yourself as a consumer. You expect brands and businesses to be knowledgeable about their products or services. The Volkswagen emission scandal is a perfect example of how product failure leads customers to question the quality of a brand.

The Integrity of your brand or business.

  • Honesty and fairness are key elements in building an emotional connection between customer and business. We expect businesses to be transparent and accountable for their actions.

The benevolence of your brand or business.

  • Businesses are expected to be compassionate and caring about societal issues beyond making money. Pepsi is known to be guilty of forgetting about this.

When one or all of the above is questioned, depending on the severity, trust levels decline. Change in opinions, feelings or actions then take place.

Mechanisms to repairing broken trust


If trust is eroded, it needs to be repaired.

This can be done through a number of trust repair mechanisms including:

Trust Repair Mechanisms Graphic

A simple apology

  • Saying sorry goes a long way. An apology and compensation to those affected by the incident are critical. It’s never too late to say sorry. Consumers appreciate a quick reaction that shows sincerity. Just think about the Starbucks example from earlier. A letter from CEO Kevin Johnson to customers and employees was quickly posted online.


  • This is all about post-examining of the incident that is usually conducted alongside credible parties. This is exactly what Southwest Airlines did. Using social media evidence and other formal investigations to report a detailed overview of an incident with the engine on one of their aircraft.

Regulation and formal control

  • This involves audits by external authorities. Changes to organisational rules, policies and codes of conduct.

Ethical culture and informal control

  • This can be done by establishing new processes and cultural values in your business. Similar to when Starbucks reconsidered its internal policies by carrying out formal racial bias training in all its stores.

Transparency and accountability

  • This involves disclosing and assigning accountability for relevant information about the decisions made post-incident.

Trust transference

  • This is all about regaining trust through various certifications and endorsements that assure the businesses’ competence.

Embedding trust into your digital strategy


Clearly, when it comes to digital communications, trust matters. For businesses and brands who have created an epic digital marketing strategy. Embedding trust into that strategy should therefore be a priority.

How do you do that exactly?

First things first. For help with measuring trust, make use of the variety of handy tools listed in this useful article that can monitor your mentions on social media.

Next, you will need to carry out an automated sentiment analysis. This will help you capture the negative versus positive in emotions messages. By focusing on negative messages, you are able to detect any negative incidents that need to be managed.

Now, you can use our 5-step trust repair management framework to help repair trust after an incident or plan your trust management practices beforehand.

5 step trust repair management framework



Firstly, as described how above, identify the current levels of trust towards your brand. This is an important step before you can evaluate the severity of an incident that has already happened or any potential negative incidents.


Next, map all key stakeholders that are (or are likely to be) affected by or caused (or likely to cause) the incident or potential incidents.


Now you need to identify potential causes of trust damage. The above steps will help you create a list of possible causes of trust damage that your brand or business is likely to face.


Map the causes of trust damage (step 3) against current levels of trust (step 1) and key stakeholders (step 2) to identify the level of trust damage. Now you must evaluate the level of trust damage to the current, pre-incident levels of trust.


Finally, you can select a trust repair mechanism for each trust damage identified.

5 Step Infographic

Next Steps – ready to talk about your digital strategy?

We hope you enjoyed this guest post from Dr Elvira Bolat. Look out for more insightful blog articles coming soon and if you wish to contribute yourself, contact us direct here.

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