Trust is a commodity in business, or so the saying goes. But if we take that statement at face value, then trust is merely a means of storing brand value which can be exchanged readily with consumers and at will.

However, if recent scandals hitting the global business landscape are anything to go by, then perhaps you could say trust is an essential component of survival itself. Just look at AMP’s share price, which has dropped 72% since it was alleged that it misled corporate regulators and may have unlawfully deducted fees from customer accounts. No one will forget the Cambridge Analytica scandal in a hurry either, where millions of users’ Facebook data were breached. The company is now closing and undergoing insolvency proceedings.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to redefine the notion of trust. Rather than a mere commodity, perhaps it should be defined as a true business asset that needs to be protected and harnessed like intellectual property, product inventory, or branding. Google Australia’s managing director, Jason Pellegrino put it this way:

“Without trust, our business doesn’t exist.”

A scary thought, because according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, Australian business trust is currently sitting in the bottom third globally, trailing the likes of Colombia, Indonesia and Mexico. So in a world where trust is eroding at an alarming rate, how are we to regain consumer confidence and let our brands shine in a positive light?

User Experience as a model for trust

Apart from the obvious – like avoiding scandal and carrying out unethical practices – one of the most effective ways of building trust with consumers is through well-thought-out user experience. Building exceptional experiences for your customers every time they interact with your brand will help to nurture an invisible trust that resonates, builds loyalty, and increases customer lifetime value.

Companies like Google, Apple, Lego, Adidas and Disney topped the rankings of RepTrak’s list of the most reputable companies worldwide in 2018 – and one thing they have in common is that they create brand experiences that resonate with users.

Another top company on the list was Netflix, who are widely credited with starting the UX revolution. As a company, they’ve done more than embrace UX; they’ve taken it to a whole new level and made it part of the core philosophy of their entire business. Their whole reason for existence is based on giving people a better way to watch the content they love – and in the process they’ve disrupted an entire industry. The results speak for themselves; in many markets around the world such as the UK, they regularly top the lists of the most loved and trusted brands. And why? Simply put, it’s because they put the needs of their users ahead of those of their business – or at least, they appear to.

So what is good user experience and how do you use it to build trust? Well, when it’s done right, UX is seamless, invisible and taken for granted. When carried out badly, it’s painfully obvious and can be a barrier that prevents consumers from experiencing positive interactions with your brand.

Good UX is simple and looks good. Bad UX is cumbersome and ugly. Excellent UX is satisfying and a joy to use. Terrible UX frustrates and angers. The best UX is completely integrated into the brand experience. The worst UX is a complete afterthought.

The key message here is a simple one – make sure you’re thinking about your users, their journey, and the interactions they have with your brand at every moment on every platform. Do everything you can to create an experience that looks good, feels good, and is fit for purpose. Let user centricity become your mantra.

Trust is transparent

And don’t forget, UX doesn’t just cover design either – it covers data transparency, and being upfront with users on how their data is being used. With the advent of GDPR, this is extremely topical and an area which many brands are wrestling with. Some have even said that data transparency is the single biggest vehicle to building consumer trust.

Users don’t just want exceptional experiences; they also want transparent ones. Pre-ticked boxes are a no-go, as are tactics like hiding the small print and key legal provisions within pages of jargon. The brands which are most transparent take their data obligations and make them as simple and digestible as possible – they communicate key messaging like T&Cs through effective design and make the user feel like they’re in control. Most users are willing to give up some of their data if it means a better experience overall, and the brands that do this best can then create seamless personalization at scale.

The elephant in the room

So should brands embrace UX design and data transparency as a model for growth and building trust? If we now understand that good UX and transparency create positive experiences, and positive transparent experiences build trust, then surely user centricity drives growth?

According to DMI, design-led companies have outperformed the S&P by 228% over the past 10 years. That’s an incredible figure, and highlights just how valuable seamless design and experiences are in creating loyal, trustful customers. Take all the pieces of the puzzle together – trust, transparency and user experience – and it’s clear that this is a balanced equation that deserves some attention.

Design-led companies have outperformed the S&P by 228% over the past 10 years.

Companies who embrace their users and look to create transparent, seamless, meaningful experiences at each stage of the consumer journey will do best in the new world dominated by the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Lego and Adidas. Those who see good UX as an afterthought will fall behind. And hitting the mark with UX isn’t something that can be achieved quickly or easily – the threshold between great design and failure is wafer thin, so your best bet is to test, learn, fail fast, and limit the impacts of failure.

Trust is something which is earned over time, but can be lost in an instant. So if you focus on one thing for your brand, make sure it’s on building brilliant, transparent user experiences which build trust and treat it like the asset it truly is.

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Guy Jarvie

Guy Jarvie is National Head of Experience at iProspect Australia and is in charge of developing the product to ensure our clients and teams stay ahead of the curve when it comes to SEO, content, amplification and CRO. With close to 10 years’ experience in digital marketing, Guy has a keen interest in modern user journeys and audience strategy – particularly how we can incorporate these insights into client plans.