Today fundamental trust has been shattered in many industries, particularly in sectors where trust is required for the company-consumer relationship to work. Think financial services, automotive and pharmaceauticals as a few examples. Whether this is the result of increased transparency or bad corporate citizenry (think Madoff), consumers have become cautious, fearful and skeptical. Change has become undesired and difficult. There is dissonance and tension. Consumers resist accepting and believing in what companies have to say. How can a company transcend industry trust barriers to establish an enduring trusted relationship with customers? With its brand.
I will share a simple true story to illustrate this point. I once knew a CEO who really understood trust. He was in an industry plagued by trust issues. His company was Johnson & Johnson and it was the world’s most diversified pharmaceutical company. Although he knew his company would grow 20%+ a year through sheer innovation, he believed he needed to build unconditional trust across all his publics in order for his company to succeed. Why? He felt that the natural downside of his products (unexpected side effects and outcomes of pharma products) would require forgiveness. He also knew that rapid adoption of his new products would require a leap of faith. Third, he felt that the power of a multi-billion dollar global enterprise would draw antagonism and would require a context that softened its edges. How did he decide to build that trust? Unlike other pharmaceutical companies who chose special initiatives or advertising, he chose to forge the trust by creating a brand. Today, his company enjoys unshakeable trust in the pharma and other health sectors due to the Johnson & Johnson brand. The brand is considered a priceless company asset responsible for generating billions of dollars in a multitude of ways.
One lesson from J&J and its legendary CEO Jim Burke, is that trust in some industries needs to be built and cannot be expected to naturally occur from work well done. Second, Burke recognized that the distrust in his industry had deep emotional roots and could not be dispelled with rational logic. He embraced emotional logic – the essence of brand power – as the path to transcend the distrust. Third, Burke believed that a well-designed brand would also stir new emotions and evoke higher order feelings that would forge a loyal relationship. Burke had an unusually astute understanding of the power of brands. His work leaves a great legacy, one of the best clear-cut examples of how a brand can help a company to transcend barriers of trust in a complex, rapidly changing industry and forge an enduring bond of unconditional trust with its publics.