Every brand owner needs to know when to give your audience the reins: and when it’s your job to take them.

And it’s nowhere better (or worse) demonstrated than through the use of ‘trust’.


Let me explain.

Last week, we were briefed by a brand owner who wanted his communications to focus on trust. On the surface, that’s a great ambition. If you take your brand seriously – and he does – you will know that if you market on trust, you have to be trustworthy. (VW, anyone?)

He has a good product, looks after his employees and has an email folder full of glowing testimonials. And yet we gently steered him away.

Here’s why.

What exactly does ‘trust’ say? To my mind, trust is an imposition. Build a communications strategy around the word ‘trust’ and you are effectively saying to your market that it’s their responsibility to uphold your brand.

Trust is in the eye of the beholder. Trust cannot be demanded, it has to be earned.

Frankly, ‘trust’ might seem like too much of a risk for many people.

Better far, talk about ‘honesty’ or ‘integrity’ – they are the responsibility of the business itself. If you build integrity into the heart of your brand, and you stick to it, you will then earn trust as a natural response to the brand’s behaviour.

In which case, why would we advocate against the use of the word ‘your’ and for the word ‘my’? It happens quite a lot: Your Nationwide, Your M&S, your budget cuts consultation…

Surely ‘your’ demonstrates a transaction between brand and customer – like honesty – and ‘my’ places all the onus on the consumer – like trust?

Well, here’s the thing.

‘Your’ is a donation. An act of patronage. A gracious giving.

And coming from a commercial entity, keen to sell its services or increase its popularity, why on earth should any potential customer fall for that idea? Consumers are quite switched on enough to know that Marks and Sparks is not owned by its customers, but by shareholders. Public service users might be tax payers, but won’t honestly believe that whole community outreach services are being generously handed over to them.

So why does ‘my’ work better?

It’s subtle but important. What ‘my’ says is: this is me. Just me. Allowed to shape this as I wish. There’s no implication that a PLC is suddenly in my hands: more that I can make my corner of it what I will.

Something that is ‘mine’ might not be big – in fact, by nature, it’s likely to be small and carefully formed – but it is always very special indeed.


That’s why when Spring developed the creative strategy for Southwold’s town centre scheme we recommended ‘My Southwold’ – allowing independent business owners to create their own flexible offers, and every card carrier to form their own clear sense of place.

The government drew attention to the success of this scheme branding in their report on the best of British High Streets, following the town’s receipt of Portas regeneration funding.

My Southwold

What this boils down to is really understanding when people want brands to bear responsibility for their profile, and when they want to take a piece of it for themselves. In these days where brand reputations can rise and fall overnight through social media and increasingly open corporate processes, it’s crucial for brand owners to take this seriously.