Study: Two forms of trust essential for effective marketing

UTS recently undertook a study into two distinct forms of ​trust​, 'cognitive' and 'affective', and found building only one kind is not enough

For marketers to build trust, they have to appeal to the heart as well as the head, according to UTS study. 

UTS researchers recently undertook a study into two distinct forms of trust, 'cognitive' and 'affective', and found building only one kind is not enough – both are essential for a business to prosper.

Cognitive trust is a more logical form of trust, where customers appreciate a business because it is reliable and competent. Affective trust is more emotional, and develops when a customer feels a business has genuine concern and care for them. 

UTS marketing expert, Dr Graham Massey, told CMO many businesses and marketers forget there is the second form of trust, the more emotional trust, which is harder to establish, but is more long-lasting.

“Only achieving one form of trust is not as powerful. Marketers seem to forget there is the second form of trust, the emotional trust. They look only at the reliability and competence form of trust, rather than trying to build emotional relationships. But this sort of trust is vital. Good emotional relationships with customers is fantastic for success,” Massey told CMO.

“It takes longer to build, and first you need to establish cognitive trust. 

“It may be a relationship with the restaurant owner who knows your name and favourite order, or you might develop a friendly relationship with your competent mechanic and, over time, feel confident they would not do or suggest something that was not in your best interest,” he said. 

Dr Massey added this emotional trust can develop only once cognitive trust has been established, but it is often dismissed or forgotten in the race for efficiency or streamlined operations, as it requires time and effort to build these interpersonal bonds. 

“You need cognitive trust before you can develop affective trust, because if someone has been incompetent and unreliable, you are hardly going to like them. But once you have cognitive trust, then emotional connections can also develop,” he said. 

“When both forms of trust exist, relationships become strong and enduring. This is one of the holy grails of marketing, to help businesses build strong relationships with customers and clients.” 

Using survey data from business managers in Britain and Australia, UTS modelled the link between cognitive trust, affective trust and positive relationship outcomes. Massey says studies of trust in marketing relationships often consider only cognitive trust, and not affective trust. 

“The research showed that cognitive trust and affective trust have at least the same impact on positive relationship outcomes, if not more powerful effects for affective trust,” he said. 

“Leaving affective trust out of the mix limits marketers’ ability to diagnose the quality of the relationship with customers or clients. It also ignores an important factor that business leaders and marketing managers can use to improve these relationships.” 

This kind of deeper trust is also invaluable when it comes to trust breaches. 

“Minor breaches you can been forgiven if you have that deeper trust, but as the Banking Royal Commission recently demonstrated, when a business not only breaches cognitive trust, but also the affective trust, it’s hard to rebuild. However, a supplier/buyer relationship can be re built if you have that emotional trust. 

“Your first port of call to establish both kinds of trust is to ensure your competence is good by meeting customers’ needs. Once this has been established, you must demonstrate some real care and concern and anticipate customers’ needs. Showing care and concern will take it to the next level."

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