The Trust Formula: How to build trust in (highly) regulated industries [inglese]


I had the privilege of working with various companies operating in regulated and highly regulated industries (from technology to banking and financial services to healthcare), and one common denominator consistently came up: the unequivocal need for a solid trust-building approach first and foremost, paired with the difficulty in disseminating this message to the rest of the organization.

I find the lack of focus on trust building something that needs to be strategically and tactically addressed at all levels of the corporate structure, especially if it is operating in a highly regulated environment (and therefore one that has higher expectations from its customers and is more delicate with respect to the services and products it provides them).

No company has the luxury to leave “building trust” as an afterthought, or some by-product of any other customer acquisition “campaign” or communication broadcast and shared with the public.

Trust building requires a specific focus and has to be included by all means in any strategic marketing plan, especially if the company is a start-up looking to make its way into a crowded market or to position itself as leader in a newly created category.

Based on my experience with the trust-building challenge, I have structured and formalized an approach that I found particularly successful when applied early on in defining marketing plans, here it is in a nutshell: it comes from putting together what has worked in the past (if there is some history) or similar experiences in the same industry and group every initiative into a “formula” that delivers consistently on the objective of building and sustaining trust.

I borrowed the structure from the well-known and widely implemented three-factor authentication wireframe: something you know, something you have, something you are and I added to this an overarching result-enhancer that is communication.


Therefore, the trust formula assumes you succeed in building trust by communicating consistently over time something you know, something you have and something you are. 

The easiest way to explain how it works is by applying it to what could be a real example of a financial service start-up looking to launch its services to the public; you will have to structure a “trust building plan” to communicate the following assets:


-       Something you know: your competencies, capabilities, and the results you brought.

This is the equivalent of your “password”, something unique to you that nobody else can possibly know or copy, unless they become “you”, spy on you or poach your employees (not advocating this of course). What makes you unique in the knowledge area, do you leverage a distinctive technology to build something special, do you know how to treat your customers so they feel they are on top of the queue and always come first? What is your USP that positions you in a different spot than your competitors? That is what you, and only you, know.

What I found particularly effective in this area is not just one specific knowledge point, but rather “the intersection of knowledge”: a mix of facts, information and skills that can’t be replicated anywhere else. As an example, it could be having and in-depth mastery of Agile management techniques plus a multi-decade experience with UX design (this doesn’t relate to a start-up per se, of course, but rather to its employees) combined with the best-in-class approach to phone customer support.


-       Something you have: in the example of the financial services company this could be a banking licence granted by the country they operate in, an EMI registration or any Money Service Business licenses. It could also be something physical, a special place you operate from, or a unique card that represents your brand in the hands of your consumers or future ones. Back to “certifications”, think of FCA-authorized businesses, coverage by Financial Services Compensation Scheme, bank-level encryption, customer support not only via email but also over the phone with multiple languages availabilities, just to mention something I have seen and used in financial services.


-       Something you are: and this is your people, your unique way of doing things, your personality. Not as a “cumulative” abstract brand, but as the (hopefully consistent) sum of all your employees, customer-facing or not. What is your honest face, what do you show to the world, how authentic is your voice in all the instances and all the interactions? You need a strong and well-orchestrated communication strategy to help you find your voice and show it to the world, to tell your story. But it is your integrity that must be there in the first place, your intent to “do good”, to care and be open and transparent.


The combination of what you know, what you have and who you are is the singular key to building trust in every business environment, and especially in those where customers will put something they really care in your company’s hands (their money or their health and, ultimately, their lives).


There are many different plans and tactics to communicate those 3 points, plans that mix marketing, PR, digital and other approaches. The combinations can help and sustain or undermine and slow-down the trust building formula you have devised for your company.


For instance, there are now a plethora of researches that confirm TV is still the most trust-building medium out there, and that, unfortunately for many who rely too much on it, digital alone doesn’t build trust (even more so when is somehow openly associated with “automated” processes in the trust communication campaigns). Events and PR are fundamental in getting your “face” out, not just the CEO face. Humanity is one of the traits, “something you are”, that must be communicated properly…if you have it.


Another point that enhances the formula is time: as the famous sentence says, it takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. This means that there is no quick win in this challenge: don’t fake it, be genuine and patient, and allow for a communication plan to be delivered over time. Trust wasn’t built in a day, cut your team some slack and let them work their magic.


This formulation may spark a long conversation about trust, including the numerous nuances and ramifications of those variables (including budget, resources, time, etc.), but the single most important step to take is a thorough analysis of your current assets and a detailed definition of the 3 key points in the formula from the start: this is your story, this is your company. And this is the way to build trust.


Success is guaranteed, if applied correctly: I have used it with measurable results over time, including double-digit (between 20 and 30%) increases in overall brand understanding and more importantly, in the brand attribute specifically referred to consumer trust.

On top of those results, the level of trust in your organization provides a compound effect to your entire marketing budget: every dollar, pound or other currencies spent in marketing and communication that is not strictly dedicated to trust-building will hugely benefit from trust and will allow improved metrics across most, if not all, the KPIs you are focussing on.