It is a well known saying and one you find all over the internet in a multitude of trite cards and slogans:
Trust takes YEARS to build, SECONDS to destroy and FOREVER to rebuild.
Like so many recognisable phrases there is clearly an element of truth we all recognise in this statement – it is as true for relationships between brands and consumers as it is between friends and lovers.

Let’s think about the most top of mind example of this we have in recent history …
Volkswagen as a brand invested millions of pounds over the years building attributes which are most closely related to Trust, like reliable (If only everything in life was as reliable as a …) best in class (sounds just like a ….) or evoking emotions like nostalgia and happiness. It set new standards in clever informed and consistently executed advertising which underlined the fact that VW could be relied upon now, in the past and in the future.

But it is time for another quote about trust, this time from Albert Einstein who said that ‘Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters’. How quickly did that become the stick by which VW was measured and which was used to beat up the values of the brand? We understand it may take a long time to recover from the ignominy of the revelations brought to light in the USA but surely a brand built on trust needs to admit some wrong and hope that the insulating buffer brought about by all those years of investing in the trusted position can carry the brand through the crisis. It is probably still too soon to call in terms of recovery – the share price picture is clear …. a significant drop and continued slump in performance.
VW share price

What may be more important is the impact measured by residual values (typically robust for VW group brands) and the response of dealerships whose livelihoods depend on the health of the brand. I will be attending a dealer event to take advantage of my £1500 discount (to say sorry) this weekend but even with that significant carrot I am not sure I will buy my 10th Volkswagen.

Why? Because when a person or a brand lets you down you expect some humility first, don’t you? Some admission or acknowledgement you have been wronged. Not so for Volkswagen who have lit up screens in the UK with the following TVC:
VWposter-1024x436If you have seen it you will know how the ad uses the nostalgia card again as it shows some red haired kid (did they model this on me?) growing up through a succession of VW models, to finish with some real emotional punches and father and son moments. (
The apparent insincerity is staggering and I really wonder what the thinking is behind this strategy? It seems that Volkswagen think that if we can all go back to the good old sentimental days our legions of followers will continue to ride with us (literally). While the share price remains low, sales to January were only down 14%, nowhere near the percentage falls in the share prices. No doubt the dealer network are using those discounts; but it appears that the consumer is willing to forgive and forget very quickly when the brand has a history of trust.

So what lessons do we learn from Volkswagen in our understanding of the importance of brand trust ?

  1. Invest in trust actively and consistently, build trust and like an invisible insurance policy it will protect you should you ever compromise that trust.
  2. Never ever take trust for granted – as Einstein observed if you are careless in the small matters you will be judged by the bigger matters of trust. The impact even on VW has been significant.
  3. Despite building a protective blanket of brand trust you cannot simply wind back the clock to better times in the hope that everyone forgets the recent past. VW seem to have made this their central strategy for the brand, in the absence of any real acknowledgement of how seriously they let down their consumers. The net spend therefore may need to be significantly more, following their chosen strategy.
  4. Perversely the VW story demonstrates how significant trust in a brand can be – despite restructures and resignations, to date, no executive has been prosecuted. In addition most of the cars with under-reported emissions levels continue to drive around Europe – recalls don’t start until March 2016. While other things may have captured news attention there are no protesters outside the VW factory gates.
  5. It will be very interesting to see how I feel when in the showroom this weekend and how the sales people handle the emotional baggage I will no doubt open up in front of them.

So will this red haired man with a history of buying VW replace his current racy red Beetle with another from the trusted stable?

I’ll tell you after the weekend ….