On his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey says, “There’s one thing that if developed and leveraged has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet it is the least understood, the most neglected and the most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is TRUST.”
Trust is the basis (and also the future) of all relationships, from business to love. How is this mysterious and powerful feeling built inside our minds? If trust is such a crucial feeling, why is it so hard to really trust someone? And finally, do we, as advertisers, understand the importance of trust?
Moved by these questions, we decided to take on a huge challenge: understand how the mind processes the feeling of trust. The research was conducted under the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET). Developed at Harvard Business School, ZMET is a neuroscience-based methodology that goes beyond our ability to rationalize and reveals thoughts and motivations of our unconscious mind.
The challenge was harder than we thought: it took more than one year to see the first results due to the barriers of breaking down “trust” inside our minds.
The main output of this methodology is a mind map with all mental associations related to the subject being investigated. In other words, it works as an X-ray of how our mind shapes our emotions.
A first look at the “trust mind map” showed us that the feeling of “risk” is the main trigger to distrust. Inside our unconscious mind lies a huge fear of interacting with others. One respondent during a session described the feeling of trusting someone as an enormous “black box” followed by “it’s already hard to trust and understand ourselves, imagine to trust others?”
In fact, there’s a shocking truth behind this learning: There’s no such thing as trust, trust is – in its essence – risk management. So, if we want to build trustworthy relationships, we have to ask ourselves: How can we manage risk in a relationship? The research indicated several paths to answer this question, but there are three main learnings (tightly connected) that are fundamental to decrease risk in a relationship:
1. Act Natural, Be Spontaneous: The idea of “what you see is what you get” is key to building trust. It’s much better to embrace your vulnerabilities than to rehearse or force a behavior that is not natural to you. It’s interesting that “trust” is far from the idea of being perfect. What happens is the opposite – a flawless person (or brand) leads to distrust.
2. Build TRUST CHANNELS: There’s no such thing as being 100% trustworthy. It’s impossible. But what is possible is to define what we call “trust channels,” sets of things that you will never fail at. It’s crucial to define them. They could be literally anything, as long as they’re clear to all.
3. Set Them Free: Don’t force people into a relationship. If people don’t feel that they have their freedom preserved, there’s no trust. Yes, trust is about bonding, but the challenge is to create strong connections without chains. To build a trustworthy relationship, everything must be on the table, even the possibility to quit.
Understanding how our brain manages risk helped us think of how communication can take advantage of these three key learnings. Unfortunately, what we see today is very distant and can be hard to digest; brands are too often going in the opposite direction, rehearsing to much, trying to seem perfect and promising everything.
So we’ve started an internal movement at our agency to build – inside and outside – a communication approach to build what we call “natural brands.”
“Natural” because of the root of the word: something inherent to a person; talent or values that are part of one’s essence; authenticity; spontaneity; what is true.
“Natural brands” is about answering the relentless and endless question, “What do I really stand for?” It is also the quest to embrace brands’ imperfections, to leverage the power of being occasionally vulnerable, more spontaneous and ultimately to behave as brands (not as freaky human beings). It’s the solution we found to better prepare brands for the world of trust: open, willing to dialogue, willing to be exposed and to be bold.