How Can Entrepreneurs Leverage Trust For Success?

With the Covid-19 global epidemic, the world is shifting very rapidly and organisations are looking at new ways to build their brands and connections.

Whilst business owners are searching for means of commercial sustainability, consumers are sending a very strong message about their expectations.

A recent Consumer Index Report by  Ernst & Young reports that 26% of consumers surveyed prefer brands and products they trust to be safe and minimize unnecessary risks.

Twenty one percent of Baby Boomers say buying from brands that share their values and ideologies is important. With Generation Xers, this number rises to 50%. And with the millennial generation, 62% of those surveyed believe buying from companies that support their own political and social beliefs is important. This statistic was unveiled by 5W Public Relations’  2020 Consumer Culture Report.

Clearly a brand must demonstrate its commitment to the community and gain the trust of its audiences.

The  Edelman Trust Barometer has studied ‘trust’ for more than 20 years now and puts trust in the centre of all the relationship that all institutions—companies and brands, governments, NGOs and media—build with their stakeholders.

Trust is defined as an organization’s license to operate, lead and succeed. Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them.

 The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the erosion of trust around the world. The 2021 Trust Barometer reveals that CEOs are under a weight of expectation to drive social change. 86% of respondents expect CEOs to publicly speak out on societal challenges such as the impact of the pandemic, societal issues, job automation, and problems facing local communities.

Today we are discussing trust, the value of trust as an organizational value and how it builds a trusted brand.

Meet our experts:

Our two experts are committed and vocal champions of EQ and heart centered organisations and known for their leadership advisory roles in business and nonprofit sectors.

Rekha Saleela Nair

Rekha is a personal brand strategist, consultant and coach. She  leverages two decades of branding and communications experience, gained from radio, advertising & from corporate, and uses a heart centered approach of Feel-Accept-Transform to help women build high impact brands.

Manuela Andaloro

Manuela serves as a board member of Corriere dell’Italianità and is an advocate for diversity and EQ-driven leadership.

She works with organizations and governments to build trust as social capital, supporting the private and public sector in framing needs and solutions, creating narratives and engagement, raising awareness on the impact that the private and public sector have on our economies and societies.

Question 1

Please define ‘trust’ as a value for organisations, leaders and entrepreneurs.

Rekha Saleela Nair:

Trust is the deep emotional belief a brand- be it of an individual or an organization – inspires in its stakeholders about the integrity of its promise, its ownership of its stated values in its words, actions and choices, and in its ability to deliver on its unique value proposition.

Brands grow with trust. It is through the forging of trust based relationships with stakeholders that brands build credibility and equity.

Manuela Andaloro:

Trust is a fundamental element in any relationship, and business relationships are no exception: they are based on transparency, fairness, and sharing. These are all factors that arise from a single root: trust. Identity, values, and quality are the basis of the success of every company.

In the business context, trust is a leadership skill. As a leader at a company, you have the responsibility to act – deliberately and proactively – to improve, recover, and expand it, bringing its impact where it does not exist today.

Unfortunately, however, many situations are not faced, or are poorly addressed – to the limit of bullying – because leaders are unable to create trust; they have not developed this type of competence and stagger in the dark, lost between the stick and the carrot.

The lack of this type of skill in leaders often leads organizations to burden themselves with considerable costs and truly penalizing process slowdowns: teams and companies where trust is low, increase costs exponentially and are hampered by bureaucratization dynamics, hyper-control, employee turnover, disengagement, and so on.

This is why Stephen M.R. Covey speaks of “the speed of trust”: only teams and organizations in which trust has been created and consciously maintained are able to guarantee, even in the medium term, results, innovation, and constant development.

This is the real challenge of organizations and leaders who want to be and remain relevant.

Question 2

Building trust for your brand –is it a MUST have and do you feel its importance has become more apparent and visible in last 15 months or so?

Rekha Saleela Nair:

Trust has always been central to a personal brand. In fact, most of the essential attributes one expects from a brand – authenticity, integrity, reliability, reputation, etc. – are all rooted in the depth of trust a brand evokes in its stakeholders.

With the pandemic having shifted us into a VUCA world where we can predict and control very few parameters, there is a renewed focus on trust in our daily lives. It is the people and business brands that enjoy deep, subliminal stakeholder trust that are finding it easier to access opportunities and grow despite the uncertainties of the landscape. Trust is now at the heart of any brand building strategy.

Manuela Andaloro:

The importance of the trust factor, whether in the leader, in the brand, in politics or in governments, has increased exponentially due to crises, renewed populism, social media, and the increasingly dangerous rise of “attention economy”.

We are bombarded with advertisements from all media, it is estimated that we receive 3K to 4K messages per day. Brands overpromise, social media promote images of situations that do not correspond to reality, disillusionment is constantly around the corner, and mistrust increases.

Trust is tied to strategic communication, and is vital for industry and governments. Not only does it have to convey goals, intentions and strategies to stakeholders and society, but it also needs to educate the general public.

It’s about earning trust, not assuming trust. Trust is not gained through position power; it’s earned through interactions and communication.

If stakeholders can relate to your message, you’ve got their attention. So, before crafting narratives or communication strategies to create and build trust, the key is to understand who you are talking to, and then assess how likely is it that my story will resonate among my stakeholders?

Show and use EQ, leverage and harness the power of storytelling.

 The first and most important communication strategy for leaders when it comes to earning trust is storytelling. Emotional and intellectual buy-in and support are critical to leader effectiveness.

Research has proven that storytelling affects the brain by enabling listeners to connect the ideas presented to their own experiences, making the communication more personal.

Question 3

Can building trust help an entrepreneur to create a distinct brand and grow their business?

Please tell us some other ways trust adds value to growth of a business and reputation of an entrepreneur.

Rekha Saleela Nair:

Absolutely yes, trust can help a brand in significant ways! Trust is a key growth driver for the brand and the business.

When we talk about trust and growth, it is important for us to make a distinction between the entrepreneur’s personal brand and the business brand. This distinction is important and necessary because it allows for the growth and evolution of both, the entrepreneur and the business, in a mutually beneficial manner. People trust people; this distinction allows for the human centered entrepreneur’s personal brand to support the growth & evolution of the business brand especially when the business is in its early stages without enmeshing the entrepreneur with the business which can be limiting for either or both brands in the long run.

There are many ways trust creates value for the entrepreneur’s brand and the business brand. A brand that enjoys deep trust is well positioned to command a premium. People become willing to pay more for higher-priced brands, because of their deep trust in the brand which overrides purchase decisions made on pure product functionality and value.

Trust also allows a brand to access opportunities, resources, connections, networks and the support necessary to grow the business. As trust becomes more deeply entrenched, the brand can inspire stakeholder championship and evangelism where the stakeholders embrace the brand so deeply that they rise up to defend the brand even in the face of setbacks or negative press.

Manuela Andaloro:

Absolutely yes is my answer. Trust is today’s strongest currency, it’s our social capital.

For brands, trust grows if clients can see through, can engage and identify themselves with your mission, goals, value, and product. Strong narratives, stories and content go a long way and shape your identity. Honesty and integrity are especially important today, as well as humility and openness, if there were any: acknowledging the missteps along the way and opening to constructive feedback will grow credibility.

Another important angle to building a strong brand and growing trust around it and its firm is aligning it with sustainability, with a greater cause, with the positive impact you and your firm can have on society, on the world and on the post-crisis recovery. We do this by tackling emotions, hearts and minds, ultimately driving cultural change.

As a leader, inspiring others is also key. Giving well-prepared speeches is one successful way to do this. Speeches should be crafted in a way that repeatedly evokes emotions. They should be relatable by understanding the audience and their needs and concerns, beginning with a story that helps the audience connect with you on a personal level. We should never forget  humor, empathy, or even to share frustration, share our message, the rationale for our actions, and why it matters. It’s important to conclude with key takeaways, including financial impact if relevant, goals and achievements, lessons learnt call-to-action, desired future outcomes and why they matter.

Question 4

What should be the start point to build a trusted brand?

What do you recommend for someone who is just setting up and may not have a lot of funds to invest in high priced consultant or campaigns or brand building?

Rekha Saleela Nair:

The key mantra to remember is that brand building is about managing an ecosystem of relationships and the stakeholders’ trust in the brand is of paramount importance.

A good starting point would be to define the purpose, vision, values, the emotional signature, the unique value proposition of the brand and to ensure that it is consistently represented across all touch points for the stakeholders.

The brand must stand out and it must resonate. It is therefore important for an early stage business/brand to ensure that there is a fit between the stakeholders need and the brand’s value proposition and that the brand delivers consistent and constant emotional experiences which allows the trust to build with each interaction. Engagement is critical.

Trust is always a felt experience and incremental in its build up. One must aspire to keep building on the stakeholder’s experience of trust.

Manuela Andaloro:

In three words: content, segmentation, emotions.

The conditions necessary to create a relationship of trust are value, authority, transparency, shared goals, consistency, presence, and top-notch customer service.

It’s also important to add value throughout the life of the customer relationship with additional content and resources (e.g. I buy a kitchen device and get free online cooking classes).

Building a brand means helping customers define the overall perception of your business; it needs a comprehensive marketing, communication, engagement, and growth strategy. It also means being absolutely clear about the company’s USP, value proposition, purpose, mission, vision, target audience, qualities & benefits your brand offers.

Once that is clear, establishing your brand’s tone of voice, look and feel, story and message is the next step. Ultimately your brand and what it stands for must be an integral part of your business or businesses, your trademark. What I often recommend to clients is to choose strategic partners and advocates, to keep building and maintaining brand awareness and positioning.

Question 5

Please share three of your best and proven tips on building trust as a core value and how to demonstrate trust in marketing and communications.

Rekha Saleela Nair:

Build a brand around giving and value creation; Compassion, giving and value creation are sure-fire ways to build a feeling of trust and comfort within stakeholders. Early stage entrepreneurs often underestimate the power of giving as a trust builder in themselves and their business. Goodwill apart, a brand that gives is often perceived as being confident, self-assured and authentic.

Aim to be experienced as being authentic and accountable by living your values consistently and constantly.

Communicate and Engage; Design a communication strategy that helps you build the right relationship with each stakeholder group. This means one must invest time and energy in understanding the stakeholders inside out so the right ways of communicating with them can be arrived at.  Transparency in communication and engagement are both critical factors.

Manuela Andaloro:

Be patient and prioritize relations with key partners and stakeholders. Any type of relationship needs time, both interpersonal and business. Trust is a virtue that can endure in perpetuity once locked into place.

Carefully choose your team and leaders you look up to, and then truly play as a team. Involve your team and advisors in the decisions you make, be transparent. Everyone can contribute to the success of a project. Entrepreneurship is synonymous with freedom, not loneliness. Do not fear confrontation, learn from it and use it to your advantage.

How you communicate can be the difference between your audience having the right or wrong impression of you, for better or for worse: it’s vital to your company’s health and cannot be left to chance. You need to dedicate time and effort to a basic, but strong marketing, communication, and engagement strategy, which includes producing thoughtful and meaningful content.

To conclude we ask our experts to share one key recommendation for entrepreneurs, specifically women entrepreneurs.

Rekha Saleela Nair:

I would urge women entrepreneurs to actively build their own personal brands with the same focus, passion and energy they dedicate towards building their business brands.

Many women businesswomen tend to ‘immerse and hide’ themselves within their business brands which often causes challenges as the business grows and scales. Women have an innate advantage in leveraging emotions to communicate with impact and in creating meaningful experiences. This is an advantage they can lean into to build personal brands that will empower themselves to achieve big dreams, to set and achieve goals that are aligned to their purpose while ensuring that they lead from a position of power in the achievement of their business vision and goals.

Manuela Andaloro:

Turn challenges into opportunities. For women, it’s no secret; certain paths are twice as difficult. Trust your intuition, and surround yourself with great, trustworthy, empathic leaders. Careers, or entrepreneurship, are not linear roads. After all the most adventurous journeys and invaluable experiences, the key people around you, whether in private or professional life, will make all the difference. Agility and adaptability are key, especially today. Keep learning, up skilling is key: the ability to always learn and to listen are the most important qualities a leader can have, test and try new ways of doing things. Measure success, but be clear about what it means for you and focus on that, it’s powerful.

Finally, remember that the best leadership – in both private and professional life – is based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and shared goals for the greater good. So do not wait for leaders, become one.

Author: Anu Bhatagnar

A thought leadership and strategic business advisor and woman leader committed to eliminate manels; and bring equal representation of women at every table. An active change leader dedicated to building health equity ecosystem in the ME and Asia regions. Anu is writing on topics of sustainable success, heart led leadership and purpose driven brands.