Keep and I during the cross-country portion of a competition
The reason I bring up Keep and my riding days is because I've been thinking about the role of trust within a brand and the consumer. Recently, with Phelps and A-Rod revealing their secrets, it has caused some fans and sponsors to lose trust in them. So I got to thinking about what I know...establishing trust between horse and rider is analogous to establishing trust between brand and customer. Really it is, just read on :)
I. Create Trust:
Horses, like people, have a strong sense of self-preservation. Their instincts are to run quickly from any threat and to stay within security of the herd. Mind you, the trust I created with Keep didn't happen over night. I had to prove it to him while consistency and patience were the formula. With positive reinforcements and a mature, persistent rider a horse will learn to follow directions of instinct but it is the rider and brand's responsibility to build the trust that keeps instinct in check and the horse or customers manageable.
II. Maintain Trust:
Once the rider has created a line of positive interaction, you have to stay consistent with your body language and reactions. The same goes for humans and brands interacting-respond appropriately, stay transparent, honest, and be consistent to their behavior or anticipated behavior. Then remember that once on a course of action, you must follow through.
I remember struggling with Keep, thinking "how do I learn to 'speak' horse if he doesn't speak my language?" I spent hours in his stall and in the saddle, morning and evening, learning the subtle cues that were distinctive to Keep. I learned that if he acted one way, I would react consistently to help teach him to learn. However, in all my training and lessons I learned the most by listening and being reactive. Two key points for a brand's reaction to a customer. Think about a brand that doesn't understand their target market, what a big mistake. Just like with a horse, why should Keep trust me if I respond angrily to his fear or don't listen to how he is acting. Like the tuned in, loyal customer--they notice when you're not listening.
III. Deliver Promises:
The Dove brand promises to make women feel gorgeous just the way they are. Volvo, vows to deliver your family safely in their vehicle. They're not just throwing a catchy tag line out there, but their initiatives mirror their promise or else they wouldn't be successful. Just like horses are social animals and stay in their herd, so are people. We use tools like Twitter, blogging and even sitting with your friend over lunch talking about how we're affected by or feeling about...my new running shoes, the Dentist that sent me the sweet welcome package, JC Penny's In the Doghouse Valentine's Campaign, etc.
If I rushed Keep through a cool-down, then threw him in his stall because I was in a hurry for something else, I broke his trust and didn't deliver my consistent promise of taking care of him. Simple, but customers don't like to be tossed aside. They want to trust that your brand's promise will hold true, and if it's broken, then they feel betrayed and upset. This will indirectly and directly, affect your brand. Depending on the extent of the broken promise and the customer or loyal fan on the receiving end, the backlash could be severe.
Above all else, trust is the first piece for any business, brand, or celebrity to establish with their following or customers. Yes, mistakes will be made, but if trust has been established and consistent then like me with Keep The Wind after a fall, I always got back in the saddle.