Designing for Brand Authenticity and Trust

Credit: Pexels by Savvas Stavrinos

In the age of information, brands and consumers seem to be perennially at odds with one another. How else can you explain the 92% of marketers who feel confident that customers find their brand content authentic despite most consumers wholeheartedly disagreeing with that claim? The same study found that 51% of consumers think that less than half of brands actually create authentic content.


What is the source of this disconnect? Multiple studies validate the importance of brand authenticity, and many others show that marketers are aware of this expectation among consumers. A lack of knowledge is not the problem. Instead, the misunderstanding comes from misplaced priorities. When push comes to shove, marketers often favor metrics-driven strategies over integrated, end-to-end customer experiences built to sustain true customer loyalty.


Responsible marketing teams are continually tracking and reporting on marketing ROI. Yet building a strong, authentic, and time-tested brand sometimes means investing in design and the user experience, which are harder to track and might take longer to show definitive results. Delayed gratification and future gains can be a hard sell in this fast-paced, results-driven world — but they are well worth the investment.


Why Design Is Integral to Building Brand Trust


Since the pandemic began, there has been a coalescence in marketing. Brands can no longer afford to “break character.” When a customer experiences dissonance or incongruity navigating between a brand’s digital and real-world channels, they are at risk of falling into gaps that denigrate brand trust.


Good design helps bridge those worlds. Consistency in graphic style, color, fonts, messaging, and tone not only creates a positive experience, but it also helps guide customers through their journey. Future-facing brands that deliver exceptional, harmonious experiences both online and offline will succeed in the long run, while those who fail to deliver will not.


Consider Red Wing Shoes. Since 1905, brand and product design have been top priorities for the company, and it has been able to retain and expand its loyal audience by integrating these values into every aspect of its products and marketing. Even as it shifted from workwear to fashion, the company maintained close customer relationships because it framed its customer-centric content with design values. The Red Wing Shoes brand continues to evolve through creative, thoughtful partnerships with European and Japanese designers who bring their own modern take on the value of tradition, quality, and craft.


IBM is a similarly iconic brand that has dominated headlines for more than 100 years with an enduring commitment to the future and to building an interdisciplinary bridge between design, science, and technology. Its focus on the power of design has been reinforced by its partnership with some of the greatest modern-day designers. Designers including Charles and Ray EamesPaul Rand, and Renzo Piano collaborated with IBM product designers and engineers in their journey to translate scientific and mathematical concepts into engaging learning experiences. IBM’s commitment to design has allowed it to evolve its definition of technology from electric typewriters and punch cards to magnum computing and AI.


Design as a Powerful Tool


In music, variation on a theme is a formal technique where a tune is repeated in altered forms. The same concept applies to branding. Corporate identifiers that maintain core elements but introduce new, sometimes surprising contexts will delight and engage audiences. And if a brand identity genuinely aligns with the brand’s mission and values, it will ring with authenticity and cultivate long-term customer-based value.


Here are three steps you can take to create consistent branding, unify channels, and promote brand authenticity that establishes trust.


1. Show up reliably.


Develop a strong color story — and stick to it. Choose colors that work as a system, and apply that system across all channels. A color system that is overly complex or applied inconsistently will disorient users and create questions around the brand. Carefully choose fonts, and develop specific application guidelines that are easily understood and applied. A unique font from a reputable foundry will differentiate a brand on its website or in its print and environmental displays. But for internal teams, client presentations, and email campaigns, it might be necessary to choose fonts that will display safely in both Windows and Mac environments.


When brand guidelines are applied rigorously across channels — from digital platforms to social and print media — it demonstrates that the brand is strong, steadfast, and true.


2. Do not coerce customers to force outcomes.


Known as “dark patterns” in marketing, these tactics mislead users for the sole purpose of conversion, and they obliterate trust. For example, have you ever tried to unsubscribe from an email list but struggled to find the minuscule, low-contrast “unsubscribe” button hidden at the end of the email? That’s an example of a dark pattern. Instead of using transparent and accessible design, hidden agendas are obfuscated to bolster clicks and conversions. Avoid this.


3. Always sweat the details.


When you pay attention to even the smallest details, it shows that you care. Apply your brand image and design work consistently across channels to prove the value of your work. Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s builds credibility, exhibits focus, and strengthens consumer trust. Ultimately, your customers’ decision to interact with and support your brand does not just come down to your offering’s features or benefits. It comes down to whether your values and craft speak to them on a human level.


In a results-centric business world, marketers often have to choose between making short-term gains that prove their worth to business stakeholders or investing in sustainable customer-centric strategies like good design. Good design might not show instant ROI, but keeping your messages and design clear, smart, simple, and tailored to your target audience will pay off in the long term.

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