How to Build Trust in a Start-Up and Why it’s Important

May 21, 2022
Trust is the most important element in any relationship and the one between a consumer and a brand is no different. When a brand makes a genuine connection with a customer, it creates brand loyalty. This connection provides the basis of what can be a long-lasting consumer-brand relationship.
It’s important to remember that every interaction a customer has with your company builds or breaks trust. From the first time they hear your name, all the way through to the moment they use your product and beyond, is an opportunity to build trust and that trust should be woven into every consumer touchpoint. No matter what stage you get to with your start-up or scale-up, when trust is gone so is your business. Nurture it!

– Maya Moufarek


Every time we choose to use a product or service, we are choosing to place our trust in that brand. It’s something we don’t always do very consciously but we trust companies with our data, our money and even our health.

Rachel Botsman is an expert in the field of trust within businesses and her book ‘Who Can You Trust?’ is a really interesting read. Rachel thinks that our belief in traditional institutions like the government and banks is reducing and being replaced by companies like AirBnb who “rely on users putting their faith in total strangers”. You don’t trust the ‘stranger’ but you do trust the business, and that trust is crucial to build credibility and encourage growth in a start-up.

1. Trust by experience

One of the biggest challenges a new business will face is a lack of trust in an untried product and therefore a resistance to spend. If you can break through that barrier by allowing a customer to trial a product while minimising risk, you can speedily build trust to the point where they start paying for the product.

You can promote ‘trust by experience’ by:

  • Offering free trials e.g. Netflix or Amazon Prime 30 day free trials
  • Offering free samples
  • Offering a cancel anytime option
  • Offering a 30 day money back guarantee

While it can be high-cost, building trust by experience is one of the most effective ways for a start-up to convince a new customer to give your product a go. Once they see what a difference it makes to their life, they’re more likely to become a committed paying customer.

2. Trust by affiliation

For start-ups and scale-ups, trust by affiliation is about receiving, and then showing off, a seal of approval from:

  • Investors
  • Regulators
  • Awards
  • Certifications and credentials

The credibility start-ups derive from their profile, experience, gravitas of their founding team, other talents in their executive team and beyond, are also great drivers to building trust. Whether it’s public backing from an investor, FSA approval for fintechs, or market specific awards, your brand’s affiliation with these successes will prove credibility and instil trust.

When I worked as CMO at Pharmacy2u, as the business was an NHS service provider, our NHS affiliation was essential to associate the UK public’s trust in the health service, with the Pharmacy2u brand.

Trust by affiliation is all about securing seals of approval from trusted sources, and showcasing them to earn the consumer’s trust.

3. Trust by social proof

Showing a potential customer that other people are enjoying using your product will build credibility far more easily than trying to convince them how great you are yourself. Social media is a brilliant way to harness this via likes and comments, but so is the messaging you use when marketing your products.

In ecommerce you will find ‘low stock’ messaging as a form of social proof that others have placed their trust in this product and to create urgency. Other sites also display how many times a product has been added to users’ basket in the last 24 hours.

It is also common and best practice to display ratings and reviews to build trust in their products. Equally, displaying your Trustpilot score or showing the number of people who have rated you highly, will help consumers believe your credibility as a tried and trusted brand.

4. Trust by design

When building your user experience, you should think about the ways that you can manufacture opportunities for building trust. Have you ever clicked on a website and thought ‘something doesn’t look quite right here’? Or wondered if you can trust whoever is behind the transaction? First impressions count.

Working trust into your design can be done by:

  • Designing your website with a modern visual identity and relevant colour palettes
  • Designing built in credibility language and endorsements
  • Facilitating an optimum and smooth user experience

For example, AirBnB has integrated trust into their design by asking renters and their guests to share as much information with each other as is possible. This comes in the form of photos, contact info of the owners, detailed information about the property, details of each guest, purpose of stay and travel details.

5. Trust by greater good

If we see people doing good for others, we are more likely to trust them. The same can be said for businesses. Celebrate your social purpose, whether it’s overt or covert, using your strategic narrative. For example, being transparent about production processing and sourcing builds trust, while financial misconduct or an unethical supply chain can quickly break trust. Ensure ethical operations touch every function of the business, from HR to data protection to production.

If social purpose is at the heart of what you do, you should include it in your brand messaging because it just might be the thing that sets you apart from the competition. More and more companies are publishing detailed financial reports in a bid to show transparency to do just this.

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