Brands are striving to be trusted by customers, but something amazing happens when businesses actually offer trust back
There’s a sweet little coffee shop a few doors down from our office.
Every time I buy coffee there I feel like a valued customer; welcomed, trusted.
The place is themed kind of like a TTC station, the signage and décor taking its campy cues from the Toronto subway system. It’s a nice visual branding exercise as well, starting with their name which sounds like an actual station – Dundas & Carlaw (but unlike the TTC, the service there actually works).
So why do I feel trusted there?
First of all, any size coffee is the same price. Two bucks for small, medium or large. Serve yourself. Choose your size. A toonie. Take what you need. Keep it simple. We’re all adults.
And it gets better. There’s a TTC cash box (like the ones we still drop our tokens into on the real TTC, because, well, it seems it’s still the 1960s on the Better Way, but that’s a rant for another day). And get this: they TRUST YOU to drop in the two bucks for your coffee. The cash box is not even anywhere near the register! Drop the cash, wave to the guy with the remarkable beard at the counter, and go about your day.
Such good Dundas Street karma.
It’s the most positive of customer experiences
The whole idea is so positive it got me to thinking about how other brands could adopt this approach.
Could a company like Ford trust you to pay for a car without asking? Well, no. In fact, they can’t seem to manage anything without first “asking my manager to see what I can do.” But they could, for example, provide honest comparisons between their fine products and those of their competitors and trust you to make the right decision.
This kind of approach to marketing was originated by Dr. Glen Urban, an MIT professor, who theorized that being honest and open with customers is the best path to building trust.
(Although the first time I saw this theory put into practice was in the classic 1947 Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, in which the Macy’s Santa sends customers to Gimbel’s when Macy’s doesn’t have the toy a child asked for in stock. So, perhaps we don’t need some high falutin’ MIT expert to explain to us what seems to be instinctively true).
It’s definitely an idea worth considering. What can your brand or cause do to genuinely build up a spirit of two-way trust between you and the people you serve?
Is it possible for larger organizations to achieve this level of connection?
It’s peach season in the Niagara Region here in southern Ontario. Drive through this beautiful countryside and on every scenic secondary road you’ll find quaint fruit stands with crudely painted signs offering fresh veggies and fruit harvested directly from the land that stretches out behind them.
What’s fascinating is that many of these makeshift stands have nobody tending them. Rows and rows of baskets brimming with plump, succulent peaches are arranged on tables under temporary awnings. Next to them, a cash box and a sign saying $5/basket.
Passersby are trusted to not only pay for the goods they take but also not lift the cash that’s sitting there in the box.
It’s heartwarming when you consider that this system actually works.
But again, these are mom and pop operations, set up by folks who are likely not betting the entire farm that people will return the trust. So what about bigger organizations?
I spoke with Mandi Hargrave of Muskoka Brewery, a major Ontario craft beer maker which has managed to survive in the brutally competitive beer trade since 1996. Their latest radio campaign caught my ear. Their tagline is “venture off the beaten path”, and in their advertising, they invite people to try different beers, even if they’re not Muskoka Brewery beers.
“We love encouraging people to discover new beers no matter where they are on their individual beer journey,” says Ms. Hargrave. “Everyone’s tastes are different. We know there are many great beers available from other breweries and we know we make great beer. We’re certain people will find at least one of our beers they’ll love and add into their regular mix.”
What they’re saying is refreshing: “try our competitors if you like, just try something new”. That sentiment is completely aligned with the notion of trusting your customer to make the purchasing decision that is right for them. It puts the company on the same side as the customer, working together to find the best choice. At the same time, it displays unfailing belief in the quality of the company’s own products.
It’s a risky proposition though because it can come across as disingenuous if it’s not aligned with established core values of the company itself. In the case of Muskoka Brewery, it’s right on the money.
In the not-for-profit sector, this approach may be even more important
At Ramp Communications the lion’s share of our work is in collaboration with not-for-profit organizations, cause marketing, charities, and fundraising. This is a sector in which trusting your audience may be even more paramount.
Consider what your cause, charity, or fundraising truly stands for. Formalize it, then, live it every day, like the good folks at Muskoka Brewery, Dundas and Carlaw, and Macy’s and Gimbel’s do.
If you’re still not sure of the value of this approach, boil it down to a personal level: when you genuinely feel trusted by a company, how does it make you feel? Respected? Valued? Honoured? Highly regarded? All of the above?
I know I do.