Post by Prasad Narasimhan, Managing Partner for South East Asia based in Bangalore, exploring some of the challenges of building and maintaining brand trust.

Trust is a central pillar of any successful brand. In good times, consumers who trust a brand advocate it, spreading its reach and influence. Brand trust is even more valuable in bad times, as shown by the recent challenges faced by Pepsi, Cadbury and Maggi. Pepsi came under attack for containing pesticides. Cadbury bars were found with worms in them. And Maggi went off most shelves as evidence piled up of excessive lead in their noodles (see below). Despite these disasters, all three brands showed resilience and have been able to rebound. How? A critical factor is the trust these brands had accumulated. As a result, consumers were willing to condone the lapses when they saw their favorite brands respond in earnest. 


Trust cannot be taken for granted and is fragile. When consumers feel a brand is ignoring their sensibilities, the bond of trust that connects them to the brand can be broken. And they can be unforgiving. One recent example is Bud Light’s campaign with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, that we posted on here. The brand’s core blue collar audience fumed at how the brand had taken their custom for granted. They felt like the brand had somehow betrayed their trust and an online storm of protest ensued. The brand lost 25% of its sales in just a few weeks and has struggled to bounce back. 


Generating trial is relatively easy. For example, India’s hyperactive skincare industry has over 500 brands. Many of these brands are generating strong trial even they are new and have no street presence whatsoever. But trial is only the start. Trial converts into repeat purchase only with trust. And it’s only by creating a series of positive experiences that the bond of trust is created, with consumers making the brand a part of their lives. 


Bottomline, trust matters. So, how to navigate a route to building and growing brand trust? We believe this requires action on two fronts: 1. rationally , engaging what is called ‘system 2’ thinking and 2. Emotionally, engaging intuitive ‘system 1’ thinking.

Rational ACTIONS

Communication can help build a brand through “storytelling”. Brilliant brand and strong support can build salience. But the best marketing quickly gets unstuck when the storytelling is not backed up with “storydoing”: bold actions that build brand trust. Even worse, is when brand’s actions contradict what it says, with the resulting negative publicity spreading quickly in today’s online world. 

A recent example is Byju’s, India’s #1 unicorn and flagbearer for EdTech (educational technology). Byju’s was valued at an astounding $22bn. It sponsored the Indian cricket team in a multi-million-dollar deal to build fame. Storytelling promised discontinuous learning outcomes through technology, persuading millions of poor Indians to borrow money to access Byju’s platform. However, avaricious sales practices, callous consumer service and aggressive collection methods created a toxic customer experience. Educational outcomes suffered. And consumer hit back hard, with new registrations dropping precipitously. Byju’s value dropped by 85% in just one year. And just this week, the board has decided to sack the iconic founder and his family.  

Contrast this approach with the storydoing of Patagonia, that we posted on here. The famous “Don’t Buy this Jacket” ad below promotes some of the services Patagonia provide as part of their Common Threads Initiative. These include making durable clothing that lasts, finding a home for Patagonia gear people no longer want and repairing items to help prolong their life, with more than 100,000 garments repaired in 2020 alone.

System 2 tip: Create consumer experiences through a series of brand-inspired actions that delivery storydoing, not just story telling


Even as we manage brand actions that appeal to consumers’ rational minds, we must not underestimate consumer emotions. Brooke Bond Red Label Tea demonstrates this brilliantly. The brand was in crisis a decade ago, as it was sucked into an increasingly functional positioning territory, focusing on ingredients including flavonoids and vitamins. The attempt at functional superiority lacked relevance and persuasive power. The emotional bond of trust weakened and core consumers shifted to low-priced alternatives.

Brand team analysis suggested the best way for Brooke Bond to bounce back was to reclaim the emotional center-stage. They zeroed in on a cultural insight related to hospitality. Indians are hospitable by nature, with tea playing a central role. The brand created a distinctive campaign based on the brand idea The Taste of Togetherness. The campaign told stories fraught with inherent social tension where hospitality with Brooke Bond tea came to the rescue.

A beautifully crafted range of well-loved ads over the last few years has worked through issues like live-in relationships, transgenderism (see below), elder-abandonment and stereotyping (1). The edgy topics keep the brand relevant for today and add drama. Brooke Bond’s happy resolution brings a smile to the face and even an occasional teerBy reclaiming a central emotional territory consumer trust is back in spadefuls, reflected in both brand health measures and sales results.

System 1 tip: create a distinctive emotional territory that allows the brand to create great stories where the brand plays a starring role

In conclusion, building brand trust is vital. Brand teams need to constantly work on both storydoing and storytelling that appeals to both our rational and emotional sides.


1. Taste of Togetherness campaign