At a time when there are more places to connect with consumers than ever, it's harder than ever to connect in meaningful ways.

Standing apart from the clutter demands brand recognition, respect, credibility and trust. As Brandweek puts it, "Brands are the express checkout for people living their lives at ever increasing speed." Trust drives the economy. It fuels business and it's at the very heart of all your relationships. Yet brands that exemplify trust are in short supply. 

 Honesty and trust are more important to consumers than the quality of the product or service, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual trust and credibility survey now in its tenth year. The same study made something else clear: Seventy-seven percent of consumers simply will not buy products from a company they do not trust.

At the same time, 91% of the people surveyed would buy a product from a company they trusted, while 77% would refuse to buy products from a company they distrusted. Also worth noting: Fifty-five percent would pay a premium for products or services when trust is present. This data provides clear indication that trust translates into tangible value.

Do people trust business? Almost half the population does not trust business to do what's right. Fifty-four percent still have faith, but that leaves a big chunk with doubts. Keep in mind, that's better than last year's historic lows, when only 35% believed business would do what is right. So there's been a rise. But Edelman warns that "the overall rise in trust is tenuous, with nearly 70% saying business and financial companies will revert to old habits when the financial crisis is over."

Therefore, trust drives business but many people do not trust business-so what do you do? You win it back. One of the ways you do that is with a comprehensive service and communications effort designed to leverage your brand equity around core trust and credibility values. Nowhere is this more important, and perhaps more challenging, than in the financial services industry.

The Financial Elite
The contest for the financial elite has never been greater. A complicating factor is that the number of very wealthy people and the aggregate wealth they control have shrunk from a few years ago. Defining the financial elite as those having a net worth of $20 million or more, we find an 18% drop in their numbers worldwide as well as a 14% decrease in their aggregate wealth (Figure 1). Meanwhile, the number of financial firms and advisors interested in these individuals continues to multiply.

Another complicating factor is the fact that the integrity and credibility of many financial institutions and advisors catering to high-net-worth clients have been called into question. There's been a tremendous increase in negative attitudes among the affluent-a product of everything from the credit crisis to the bailouts to the Ponzi schemes to the simple loss of private wealth.

Firms and advisors need to address the financial elite's concerns and anxieties over their providers. There are a plethora of potentially effective strategies and methodologies to accomplish this. One core strategy is to skillfully leverage a brand that strongly resonates with the wealthy. This might require recharging or enhancing or even extending an existing powerful brand. It might even entail "creating or re-creating" a brand. However, it's clear that there are few financial institutions and advisors doing a top-notch job of leveraging their brand-whether it's the institutional brand or an advisor's personal brand.

What's important to realize is that a well-focused brand can prove to be a very effective means of business development and client maintenance. Marketers extensively preach this proposition. However, in practice, there is considerable evidence that firms and advisors are doing a less-than-stellar job of adroitly building and managing their brands. This is the case even though there are a number of very powerful institutional brands in the financial services arena. Individual advisors can benefit from constantly reinforcing and using their personal brands.

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