Elon Musk is Building a Giant Robot Army. Are You Concerned?

If you’re the least bit interested in trust and how our ability to maintain a functional society depends on our ability to rely on other people’s willingness to abide by general cultural norms, Elon Musk provides an almost endless source of material to work with. 

Whether it’s the convoluted twists and turns of his Twitter deal, making sure Tesla owners don’t upgrade their cars without permission, or downplaying the fact Starlink satellites can be hacked with $25 worth of gear, there’s plenty going on that can lead the average, everyday person wondering about the outsized role this one individual has in our culture. Social media, electric vehicles, and national security are currently somewhat subject to the whims and fancies of an individual known to be petty and capricious. 

Are Geniuses Inherently Trustworthy? Just Ask Mileva

There are people who will tell you Elon Musk is a genius. And I have to tell you, they may be right. There’s a lot going on in terms of innovation, industry disruption, and, frankly, truth telling, that’s well worth paying attention to. No matter how the situation has evolved, Musk did something hugely valuable by calling Twitter’s data into question. His methodology is somewhat chaotic – but so too is the approach of the archetypal figure The Fool – the one who is willing to aim high, take great chances, and suffer failure time and time again. 

The reason the Fool is so willing to boldly take chances is that the consequences of bad outcomes generally are suffered by someone other than the Fool. This willingness to externalize negative costs is something Musk has mastered as well. Scandal after scandal follows Musk’s endeavors, but he just keeps carrying on. It is possible to be rich enough to escape meaningful consequences, and Musk consistently does.

Here’s Where the Robots Come In

Now, Reuters reports, Musk is planning to build thousands of autonomous robots to work in Tesla factories. This is only the beginning, apparently, as Musk says these robots could eventually be adapted for home use, doing chores for the elderly like meal preparation, lawn care, and, of course, cleaning up after the grandkids. 

What could possibly go wrong? And when it does, do you trust Elon Musk to make it right?

Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” We are far too late for that – but it’s not too late to have the conversations so critical about trust, innovation, and society that Musk provokes. What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I would love to be a speaker at your next event and share actionable, engaging, and unforgettable tips with your audience on creating a cult brand that customers and employees can trust. To learn more click here.

Who Do You Love: A Look at Hot Chicken Takeover

In the course of my research into what makes customers love some brands more than others, it’s become clear that a brand’s relationship with its employees carries a significant amount of weight. 

One of the reasons Publix Super Markets enjoys its dominant position in the competitive grocery industry is the positive relationship they maintain with its employees. Because the employees are well treated, well compensated, and eventually become eligible to take an ownership position in the store, they go out of their way to be nice to the customers. This, in turn, helps build love and loyalty. It’s a strategy that works very well. Showing your employees you care about them makes it easier for your employees and customers to love you back.

But sometimes, it’s hard for people to get into positions where their employers can love them. Bad life decisions can result in criminal records, bankruptcies, and homelessness – all factors that make getting a job extremely difficult. 

One restaurant chain – Hot Chicken Takeover – is gaining much positive attention due to its policy of hiring men and women who need supportive employment. In addition to providing people with jobs, Hot Chicken Takeover also provides mental health referrals, connections to housing services, emergency cash, and a savings matching program. These additional benefits play a pivotal role for people transitioning into better lives – and receiving their results in a workforce that’s loyal and hard-working. Best of all, Hot Chicken Takeover customers love the restaurant for both its food and its mission. 

When Harvard Business Review considered the question of whether or not businesses should hire people with criminal records, they did a good job of examining the structural inequalities currently present in this country. People of color are far more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes than white people who commit the same offense. While many employers say they will consider hiring someone with a criminal record, the data shows these applicants receive significantly fewer callbacks and are hired very rarely. 

By taking a stand and being willing to invest in the health and well-being of its workforce, Hot Chicken Takeover has done more than build a strong brand. They’ve changed hundreds of lives for the better. They’ve made it possible for people to build lives of dignity through hard work. And they’ve earned the lasting love of those employees as well as the public, who understands and appreciates the rare opportunity this restaurant provides. 

Who Do You Love?

 Is your organization open to hiring people who have troubled pasts? Is your brand capable of providing the type of supportive environment that allows employees to thrive and grow? Do your brand values allow for second chances?  These are the type of questions that can change an organization’s future – but you have to believe in the power of love to make it work.

Building Trust By Saying No: On Refusals, Rocket Launches, and Maintaining Goodwill

Living in this part of Florida, it’s possible to grow acclimated to things like rocket launches. There have been 34 launch attempts from Cape Canaveral this year alone! But today’s launch was supposed to be extra special.

Artemis 1 is a super important mission. It’s the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration program, which will result in humanity returning to the moon and then going even further into space. 

The marketing support for this launch has been tremendous. I haven’t been able to get the actual numbers yet, but the budget for the extensive campaign must be literally sky-high. The effort that’s gone into generating excitement about this launch online, via the news media, and even in school classrooms has worked – but it’s also put a lot of performance pressure on NASA’s team. 

We’ve Been Here Before

In 1986, the Challenger was launched, flew a very short time, and then exploded. This resulted in the death of the entire crew. This included teacher Christa McAuliffe, who’d been at the center of the storytelling the public was hearing about America’s future in space. 

Subsequent to the disaster, analysis revealed that NASA’s oversensitivity to public opinion was one of the factors contributing to going forward with a launch that should have been delayed due to mechanical issues. In other words, having promised the public a lot, NASA felt they had to do what they could to keep that promise even though it wasn’t safe to do so. 

In an effort to build trust and love with the public, NASA made a decision that damaged both severely.

Lesson Learned: You Can’t Always Give the Public What They Want. It’s More Important to Do the Right Thing

It’s easy to understand why NASA works so hard at public relations. They need the public to love and trust them, because public funding – ie governmental appropriations – is easier to get when the people actively support what you’re doing. 

However, you don’t create love and trust simply by giving someone everything they want. Life is more complicated than that. As space explorers – and, perhaps more relevant to your daily life, as business leaders – we are often faced with situations where things aren’t going exactly as planned. A choice has to be made: try to fulfill expectations, even though the risk of catastrophic failure is high – or act to address the risk of catastrophic failure and manage the disappointed expectations. 

NASA chose incorrectly in 1986. However, in the subsequent decades, a massive cultural change has happened. While there’s definitely still a significant amount of pressure to perform in place, the decision to take more time and do the job properly is now easier for leadership to make.

That’s what happened with this morning’s launch. Even though many governmental leaders and dignitaries – including Vice President Kamala Harris – were on hand to see the event, along with hundreds of thousands of tv and online viewers, when technical issues emerged during the pre-launch process, leadership made the decision to delay the mission. 

Is this disappointing? Absolutely. Is it the right decision? In terms of building trust and love with the public, absolutely. Succumbing to public pressure is easy. Taking a stand to do the right thing – even when you’re in the global spotlight – can be difficult. But if you want people to trust you, you have to be willing to disappoint them when it’s necessary to do the right thing. Done consistently, that’s how you wind up among the stars.

Sometimes The Giants Shoot Themselves: Wells Fargo Illustrates the Importance of Trust

As giants go, Wells Fargo was a big one. In 2008 it became a coast-to-coast super-bank with $1.4 trillion in assets and 48 million customers. From there, Wells Fargo grew to the point where it became the largest mortgage company in the country, providing one in every three home loans. 

Everything should have been awesome. But it wasn’t. Things began to go catastrophically wrong, and people – Wells Fargo customers and the general public – felt like they couldn’t trust the bank any more.

Side-Eyeing the Giant: What Causes Trust to Be Lost?

In the course of my research into how customers gain and lose trust in brands, I’ve seen several companies – giants, if you will – stumble through a scandal, recover, and emerge smarter and stronger. The opportunity was there for Wells Fargo to move past an admittedly massive fake accounts problem successfully. 

But that’s not what happened. Instead, during the pandemic, Wells Fargo unfairly denied hundreds of struggling homeowners loan modifications. The number of foreclosures, along with heartbreaking stories of families losing their homes, dominated the news cycle for months. The bank blamed their software, but from the public’s perspective, the giant stumbled again. When Wells Fargo had to pay 1,800 homeowners over $12 million in compensation, that made headlines too.

No Trust, No Love: What Are You Going To Do When You’re Your Only Friend?

Wells Fargo lied, cheated, and made little kids homeless. That’s a lot to come back from, particularly in terms of customer trust and love. Wells Fargo is no longer the biggest bank in the country. They’re third – and the new leadership is talking about not being tethered to past ambitions. They’re no longer interested in being #1 simply for the sake of being #1 – which is exactly the sort of sour grapes rhetoric you get from a brand that knows it’s never going to be on top again. 

That being said, there’s a lot to be said for right-sizing an organization during troubled times. If you have parts of your business that carry great potential to leave you looking like a bad guy unless a number of unlikely things happen perfectly, it is a good idea to stop those parts of your business. In other words, make choices that build the trust you have with your customers. 

To this end, it’s encouraging to see Wells Fargo focusing on their existing customer base and communities where their bank already has a presence. Maintaining strong relationships requires effort even when everything is great. When the boat is rocky, it’s a little harder to keep everyone on board. An increased emphasis on customer satisfaction makes a lot of sense right now. 

Will Wells Fargo stabilize after shrinking – or even start to grow again? 

If the answer to either of these questions is Yes, we will need to see the bank begin behaving in a way counter to its behavior for decades now. It will require radical change to bring the brand into a position where they’re both trusted and loved. But in this world, anything can happen – and I can’t wait to see what does. 

What do you think? What does the future hold for Wells Fargo? What would it take, in your eyes, for the bank to become more trustworthy? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 



The CMO’s Guide to Cult Branding

It's one thing to create a loyal customer; it's another to foster brand communities where groups of people band together around your brand's message.

Loyal customers consistently do business with their preferred brands, often without evaluating convenience or pricing factors. These loyal customers are also more likely to tell their friends and family about the brand (called word of mouth), creating a low-cost stream of new customers.

Given these valuable attributes, it’s easy to understand why loyalty is considered the holy grail of marketing.

Loyalty Isn’t An Accident

Companies that foster brand loyalty go to great lengths to understand their customers’ needs and meet those needs better than anyone else.

These companies seek to create loyal customer evangelists, or what we call Brand Lovers. Creating Brand Lovers requires diligent effort on the part of executives to adopt a highly customer-centric approach to marketing, product development, and operations.

Cult Brands are those businesses that foster an unusual level of brand loyalty among their patrons. Apple Brand Lovers, for example, don’t consider a PC as a viable alternative.

Five Factors that Influence Loyalty to a Brand

Numerous factors and psychological processes are involved in influencing customers’ relationship with your brand:

  1. Repeat Purchasing Behavior: How often does a customer buy from you?
  2. Commitment: How long has a customer been committed to doing business with you?
  3. Perceived Value: How much value does a customer perceive in your offering?
  4. Brand Trust: How much trust does a customer have in your brand?
  5. Customer Satisfaction: How satisfied is a customer with the overall brand experience?

Four Types of Loyalty

Marketing professor Philip Kotler suggest four groups of customer types that demonstrate similar behavioral patterns in respect to brand loyalty:

  1. Hard-core Loyals: Customers who buy exclusively from a brand.
  2. Split Loyals: Customers loyal to two or three brands in a particular category.
  3. Shifting Loyals: Customers who move from one brand to another.
  4. Switchers: Customers with no sense of loyalty to any brand.1 2

Three Customer Mindsets

There are three primary customer mindsets important to understanding the factors behind brand loyalty. Every customer engages in all of these behaviors at different points throughout their lives.

  1. Transactional Mindset: Logic-driven thinking that weighs the options and makes the optimal decision in the moment.
  2. Relational Mindset: Although logic still plays a role, feelings primarily drive purchasing decisions.
  3. Loyal Mindset: Decisions are based on deeply-held values and ideals.

The Cult Branding Loyalty Continuum

Over nearly two decades at The Cult Branding Company, we have identified three primary patterns of behavior among customers:

  1. Brand Lovers: Customers a brand is especially for; those customers who love the brand the most and who may not perceive any alternative to the brand’s offering. Brand Lovers have an emotional investment in the brand. They feel their values align with the brand’s.
  2. Brand Enthusiasts: Customers who have a favorable impression of a brand but don’t necessarily have any investment or a deeper connection to the brand.
  3. Brand Nomads: Customers with a transactional mindset (see above) who shift from brand to brand without forming any brand allegiances.

The Key to Building Brand Loyalty

The truth is that most businesses struggle to build brand loyalty.

In fact, many executives at large corporations don’t even believe that building brand loyalty is possible, opting instead to exclusively focus on driving the next transaction. In our experience working with major national brands as well as independent retailers, building brand loyalty is most certainly possible.

Of course, we have a lot of evidence for this claim. A quick look at Cult Brands highlights the extraordinary level of brand loyalty some businesses have achieved with their customers.

While not every business may want to go to the lengths it takes to transform into a Cult Brand, every business can cultivate a core group of loyal customers—their Brand Lovers.

Focusing on your Brand Lovers is the key to building brand loyalty.

The Psychology of Mass Movements

Brand loyalty becomes less elusive when you understand the various drivers of human behavior. You don’t need to be a psychologist to appreciate that we, as humans, aren’t always aware of why we do what we do.

It’s one thing to create a loyal customer; it’s another to foster brand communities where groups of people band together around your brand’s message.

When you see groups of people joining a brand’s mission, you see a Cult Brand in action. How does it happen? And what can you do to help your brand build a following of loyal customers?

Using Apple as an ideal example, take a look at how you can create a mass movement:


If you’re looking to further your knowledge on brand loyalty and how to cultivate it for your business, here’s a hand-picked selection of related articles:


Truth and Trust: A Lesson from Shopify

If I tell you when I’m wrong, you’re more likely to trust me to be right.

Shopify is widely regarded as one of the best e-commerce platforms for small business – but Shopify itself is not a small business. There are 3.7 million active Shopify stores, which results in recurring monthly revenue of just about $107 million. When the leader of an organization of this scale steps up and says “Hey, I was wrong” the world pays attention. 

In Tobi’s Own Words

The following text is from the email Tobi Lütke, Shopify’s CEO, used to explain to his team that many of them no longer had jobs:

Before the pandemic, ecommerce growth had been steady and predictable. Was this surge to be a temporary effect or a new normal? And so, given what we saw, we placed another bet: We bet that the channel mix – the share of dollars that travel through ecommerce rather than physical retail – would permanently leap ahead by 5 or even 10 years. We couldn’t know for sure at the time, but we knew that if there was a chance that this was true, we would have to expand the company to match. 

It’s now clear that bet didn’t pay off. What we see now is the mix reverting to roughly where pre-Covid data would have suggested it should be at this point. Still growing steadily, but it wasn’t a meaningful 5-year leap ahead. Our market share in ecommerce is a lot higher than it is in retail, so this matters. Ultimately, placing this bet was my call to make and I got this wrong. Now, we have to adjust. As a consequence, we have to say goodbye to some of you today and I’m deeply sorry for that.

The bolding for emphasis is mine. Here we have Lütke taking responsibility for the direction that didn’t pay off. His leadership resulted in negative consequences for many people. Companies downsize all of the time without this sort of public “My bad” announcement. 

So why did Lütke make this messaging choice? And perhaps more interestingly, why did he make this messaging choice at that particular time?

Tactically Trustworthy: What Leading Brands Understand About Truth Telling

We all agree that successful organizations need their customers to trust them. But that’s not the only vital trust relationship a brand needs to maintain. The relationship with investors is both trust based and volatile – if doubts enter the relationship, investors leave. 

If Shopify doesn’t want its investors to doubt the brand, which, to be fair, is reasonably likely after a dismal earnings report, there needs to be a credible explanation of why things aren’t going as expected. Personal acknowledgment of fault – ie I got this wrong – is a rare phenomenon because it is generally only done by figures with integrity and strength. Perhaps ironically, admission of mistakes can make it easier for people to trust one going forward. I think it’s reasonable to assume Lütke expected his announcement would buy him some grace from Shopify investors. 

Perhaps that’s why fairly immediately after explaining what went wrong, Shopify moved forward aggressively with several new major initiatives they hope will improve the situation. Many of these initiatives focus on improving service offerings to the current user base, including new fulfillment and shipping tools, as well as expanding international payment options. 

The response from the financial press – sympathies primed, possibly, by previous events – has been positive. “Losing faith in Shopify? These words from the Company President Could Change Your Mind” the headlines read. 

Wouldn’t you love to have this response when you admit a mistake? This is not a position you arrive in accidentally. This is only achievable when you understand how trust works. 

About Those 3.7 Million + Shopify Store Owners – What About Their Trust?

The most vital trust a brand can enjoy is the trust of its customers. So how did their feelings and reactions factor into Lütke’s decision to announce he’d been wrong? Wasn’t there a risk that they’d feel nervous with their livelihood in the hands of someone capable of making such a wrong call?

Again, we return to the tactical nature of trust. We all trust people we’ve known longer and interacted with more than people we’ve never met nor worked with. You hear people talk about being invested in relationships. Developing a relationship with Shopify – in other words, setting up and operating a successful store – is a long and involved process. 

Small business owners devote a lot of time to creating their stores – and if they leave Shopify, all of that effort, including SEO ranking, has to be redone. Switching e-commerce platforms is a huge undertaking. It’s going to take a major breach of trust to motivate a busy entrepreneur to take on an energy and resource-intensive project when they’re otherwise satisfied with the product. 

Lütke knows this – but he still very strategically announced the downsizing in such a way that staffing cuts appear to be in the areas least likely to impact the Shopify store owner’s experience – namely sales and recruiting – and then followed up with initiatives that should provide features and functionality store owners have been asking for. 

Keeping Trust Levels High Throughout A Pivot is Smart

Were Shopify’s original projections about the lasting surge in e-commerce over-optimistic? Perhaps. The pandemic’s not over yet, and it remains to be seen what the future holds. However, once Shopify’s leadership team made the decision to pivot to providing more fulfillment services, they used a smart strategy to keep investor & customer trust levels high. I think this is pretty smart. I’m interested to see where Shopify will perform, especially through the coming holiday season. I’m also interested in what you think of the whole situation. Please share your thoughts!




Trust Issues – We All Have Them

Recently, when I was writing about the Elon Musk/ Twitter deal  – currently headed for court, with Twitter blaming recent revenue drops on uncertainty regarding the acquisition – I mentioned that every organization has vulnerabilities. Some people took exception to this, in the sense that they felt Twitter was being somewhat unethical while they themselves worked hard to operate their business in a more morally correct fashion. 

With that in mind, I think it’s very important to explain that a company can quickly lose customer trust while operating according to its values and standards. For example – Your brand is vulnerable to several factors entirely out of your control. 

The Hacker Steals the Credit Card, You Pay the Price

Let’s say there’s a data breach of the sort Neiman Marcus suffered in 2021 – 4.6 million customers had to be notified that their personal information, credit card numbers, gift card numbers, and other sensitive data had been stolen by hackers. While the luxury retailer immediately took action to mitigate the situation, including mandating all customers change their online passwords, the brand did become less trustworthy in the eyes of some customers. Perhaps the loss of trust was greatest among the brand’s long-time customers, who’d been through previous major data breach issues with Neiman Marcus. 

Bad Things Happen To Good Brands: Be Trustworthy Throughout

Can you ever be completely confident that your brand will not fall victim to a criminal? Of course, you can’t. While brands take precautions, there are no guarantees in this world that your brand will ever be completely safe. In much the same way, brands are vulnerable to failures of the merchandise they sell, the customer experience employees provide, and even interactions your customers have with other people while in your business. 

None of these vulnerabilities arise out of a morally questionable stance, such as Twitter’s choosing to be less than transparent about business operations. However, they all can result in the customer having an emotional experience that causes them to view your brand as less trustworthy. 

If trust is important to you – and in the work we do, we’ve found it’s the brands who are the most loved and trusted that are ultimately the most successful – then it’s essential not to overlook the vulnerabilities your organization does have. Eventually, something will go wrong. Trustworthy brands have put systems in place to maintain and even strengthen customer relationships during problematic events. From a moral perspective, thinking ahead in order to best serve the customer is the right place to be.

What Happened To Twitter Can Happen To You: Elon Musk Just Taught A Master Class on Exposing Vulnerabilities

He’s in, he’s out – Elon Musk’s decision whether or not to purchase Twitter has dominated headlines for weeks. While there’s been a lot of talk about free speech and financial shenanigans, the largest part of the discourse has been around bots. Musk raised the question of how many Twitter users are actually genuine people, and what’s happened since then?

People now trust Twitter less than they did before. This change in sentiment appears to be occurring independently of individual’s opinions of Musk. By not being able to address the bot question in a way that satisfied Musk – or, at a minimum, was understandable to the general public – Twitter left a lot of people with a lot of questions. While many of these questions are relevant to the health of discourse, there are additional huge concerns for brand building professionals. 

If there’s no accurate bot numbers, how reliable is Twitter’s CPM pricing?  Are the reports of a liberal, affluent user base believable? Do users really spend five hours a week on the platform? Doubts are like potato chips – you’re never going to have just one. 

Doubts destroy brands. 

Troll or Truth Teller: Understanding Elon Musk

Elon Musk understands better than most people that brands rise and fall based on how people feel about them. Tesla is a beautiful case in point. Tesla owners buy more than a car: they’re buying into a specific vision for the future, with the idea that they’re participants in progress offsetting the growing pains that come with any emerging technology. 

Given the sprawling and complex nature of Musk’s business finances, I can’t say with any degree of certainty that he ever intended to complete the Twitter purchase. But there seems to be little doubt that Musk wanted to damage Twitter’s value. He did this by tactically attacking Twitter’s trustworthiness – specifically by raising concerns about the bot issue. 

You have a budget to work with as you’re building a brand. How much of that money are you willing to devote to Twitter now? What Musk really did is shine a light on the tendency to accept platform performance claims without question. Prior to this, discussion of bot presence on Twitter was definitely happening in tech circles – but it wasn’t a mainstream discussion. Now that the question has been raised in such a prominent fashion, the wider business community has doubts. And that’s not good news for Twitter.

It Could Happen To You: We All Have Vulnerabilities

It’s easy to say that our brands would never be in the position Twitter is in, but in real life, almost every organization has some aspect of their operation they’d rather not talk about. Twitter’s experience serves as a wake-up call for leadership to think about what can be done ahead of time to address those situations. 

The choice to keep maintaining trustworthiness at the core of a brand’s decision-making impacts every facet of the organization, from operations to communications right on up through mergers and acquisitions. Twitter had every opportunity to handle this bot question differently, but they didn’t. We’re going to see how the brand moves forward in the days to come. 

I’m very interested to hear what you think about the situation. Did Elon make the right move? Will Twitter emerge triumphant after all? Let me know what you think.

Three Vitally Important Lessons I Learned About Trust While In a Filthy Gas Station Bathroom

I’m blessed with healthy young children. The family’s on a road trip. You know what that means – someone always needs to use the bathroom, right away, right now. And that’s how I wound up in one of the filthiest gas station bathrooms I’ve been in in a long time. 

We’re not talking rats in the trashcan and overflowing toilets nasty, but this bathroom was rough enough that I felt bad about having my son in that environment. Had I known things would be this dirty in this establishment, I would have dealt with whatever the consequences might have been for driving to the next stop – no matter how distant that might have been.

Once we were out of there and back on the road, I found myself surprised about how emotional that experience had been for me. This is a tiny minor interaction with that business, yet I was angry with them. Why was I angry? 

Here’s Trust Lesson #1: We All Have Trust Issues.

I was angry because I felt betrayed. I stopped at that gas station in the expectation that it would provide facilities in keeping with its branding. I knew not to expect a luxury experience, but there’s a certain basic level of competence I trusted would be in place. 

Based on this trust, I brought my child into this setting. Parenting is a serious responsibility, and we all try to shield our kids from things that could make them sick or distressed. I wouldn’t stop at the sort of sketchy looking place where this filthy bathroom would be unremarkable because I don’t bring my kids to places like that. 

My kids trust me to take care of them. Being in this nasty bathroom, I felt like I’d let my son down. Who was responsible for these bad feelings? The gas station that failed to live up to its brand promise. They showed me I could not trust them. How do you think I feel about that gas station now?

If this seems like an excessively personal take about a brand, you should know that every single customer interaction is like this for customers. Trust is won and lost when people interact with your brand as part of their everyday life. Everyday life is intensely personal.

In everyday life, people are much more than customers. They’re parents. They have parents they’re caring for. They have romantic partners, friendships, and countless other connections with people near and far. Every single one of these relationships is much more important to your customer than the relationship they have with your brand. If your actions – or lack thereof, in terms of bathroom cleaning – violate the customer’s trust in you and introduce negative elements into their much more important relationships, the bond you may have had with them is over. 

Key point: as much as we measure our customer behaviors, it’s very easy for brands to lose sight of the customer as an entire human being, who does much more than shop. It’s only when we develop a multi-faceted understanding of our customers that we can truly prove ourselves worthy of their trust. 

Trust Lesson #2: When You Trust, You’ll Be Willing to Try.

Of course I couldn’t help but contrast the experience I’d had in this gas station with what I knew I’d experience at Buc-ees. I’ve written before about how this successful chain thrives in part because it lives up to its promises – including the promise that if you bring your child there to use the bathroom, you will find clean facilities for them!

Buc-ees does more than provide clean bathrooms and gas. They also have great food. Food & Wine Magazine once wrote an ode celebrating their brisket. I have had it and I have to agree that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever eaten – but how do I know that?

Before you eat food, you have to trust that the food is safe to eat. This is a very primal aspect of being a human being, but in the modern world this plays out most often in choosing restaurants or takeaways that are suitably hygienic. 

Having seen Buc-ees billboards about their bathrooms, and then the bathrooms in question, I had no hesitation in trying the food they serve. This is a brand that does a good job in rapidly establishing the fact they are trustworthy. The competence and attention to detail that goes into the restrooms made it easy for me to trust that the kitchen would be equally well-run.

They sold food in the place that had the filthy bathrooms too. And remember that I was there with my young son, who is not too old to want a giant slushie. But after the bathroom experience, I didn’t trust the cleanliness standards of that kitchen. We left that place without buying any food whatsoever!

Key Point: Being trustworthy increases a brand’s earning power. Customers buy more – and they buy more often – from brands they trust. It’s a smart strategic move to begin demonstrating your brand’s trustworthiness early in the relationship. 

Trust Lesson #3: We talk about who we trust – and who we don’t.

Word of mouth and reputation management are not exactly new concepts, especially in the branding and marketing world. But what struck me most about this filthy bathroom experience is how strongly I felt the need to warn other parents away from that particular gas station.

I’m not going to name names here, because there’s already more than enough negativity online. But in those instances where I have strong trust-based relationships with people local to the area, you’d better believe I mentioned to them that there are much better businesses to visit when the kids need a potty break.

Again, we’re talking about some very deep social conditioning here. One of the ways we strengthen the bonds we have with other people in our communities is by sharing information. The impetus to do so is especially strong when we experience or perceive that our trust has been misplaced. When we care about people, we take action so they might avoid being similarly disappointed. When our trust is broken, we talk about it. 

This is where social listening and artificial intelligence can be useful tools for brand building. Monitoring the conversations people are having about our organizations and using the right tech tools to filter out some meaning from the unstructured data gathered can help identify problems as they’re happening. Addressing these concerns may not restore lost customer trust, but it may be possible to strengthen relationships with your existing customers and start relationships with new customers from a better position. 

Key Point: Brands need to consider their reputations as viewed through the filter of trust. Where are customers feeling let down or betrayed? How do these feelings align with the experience the business provides? Ultimately, each brand determines how trustworthy they are. Be clear about what promises your brand is making, and what operational decisions are required in order to keep them.

7 Questions to Consider When Building a Pricing Model

Setting the right prices for your audience and revenue goals is important when taking a product to market. The following questions will help you clarify your pricing model.

To develop your pricing model, consider:

  • What is the value you’re offering to your target customers?
  • Are there existing price expectations?
  • How do you price your product relative to your competitors?
  • Is there a way to create a competitive advantage with your pricing model?

Channel economics is important to consider. For example, most airlines, like JetBlue, charge a $25 booking fee when you book a flight over the phone while charging no fees for online booking. There is little variable cost for web transactions, but call center representatives are expensive.

Your goal might be to develop a revenue model based on anticipated market penetration, average transaction size, number of transactions, and so on.


  • What are your primary goals for market share penetration?
  • What are your estimated margins over the next one-, two-, and three-year horizon, factoring in startup and ongoing expenses?
  • What are the human resources requirements for the first year of execution?

To help mitigate risk, it is advisable to identify the economic, competitive, and internal risks associated with executing this strategy. Outline the biggest risks that may affect your ability to reach your goals and develop strategies to address how to overcome them.