Building a Trusted Brand is Good for Any Business

Ethics Center Sep 11, 2017

Six Questions with Kate Quinn, Chief Administrative Officers, U.S. Bank

Trader Joe’s wasn’t always the multi-state phenomenon that it is today. Like many businesses, it started small, with a single store in Southern California. Kate Quinn remembers. She shopped at that first Trader Joe’s and recalls it as one of the first brands that earned her trust and loyalty. 

“They knew who they were, they delivered on their promise and I knew what to expect every time I shopped there,” Quinn recalls. “I trust the products that they buy. They are products that I want and need. I trust where they came from. I trust the pricing. The people are great to me when I go in there. The best part is, when I go to Trader Joe’s today, it’s still consistent with what I first saw.” 

Today, as the chief administrative officer and architect of the U.S. Bank brand and corporate strategy, Quinn stresses similar fundamentals in building a brand that people know and trust. The U.S. Bank brand journey began four years ago, building on its legacy as a 150-year-old institution. When Quinn joined the bank, she was tasked early on with identifying which principles and language among those already in place, would be used to create a cohesive brand message for both internal and external audiences. 

Kate’s leadership prompted U.S. Bank to adopt its first company-wide Purpose Statement: “We invest our hearts and minds to power human potential.” The bank also laid out five core values that back up that statement: We do the right thing; we power potential; we stay a step ahead; we draw strength from diversity; and we put people first. Building a trusted brand doesn’t have to be expensive. Any business can do it. In this Q&A, Kate shares her insights on the role of integrity and trust in a brand, and what every business should consider when delivering on their brand promise. 

How do you make an internal culture of trust show up in the world?

Quinn: You can’t tell people to “trust me.” It sounds like a used car salesman. Your principles show your customers that you’re trustworthy. We treat each with respect every day inside the company. We have specific principles that guide how we treat each other. For example, we ask questions like, “Would you sell this product to your grandmother?” and, “Is this doing the right thing?” To me it starts with how we treat each other in the company and eventually it shows up outside. 

Could you share a story about how you’ve approached branding at U.S. Bank?

Quinn: When I came in to U.S. Bank that’s the big thing I was hired for. Nobody felt like we were getting enough credit for the good things we were doing and the way we came through the financial crisis. I think people expected my work to become some type of advertising campaign, but after doing my research, and understanding what the root of it was, we didn’t do any advertising. We started branding from the inside out. It was really about finding our competitive advantage, which for us was our culture. 

So how could we put in words what that culture was? When I started we had different mission statements, vision statements and value statements in all different places across the company. I started thinking about branding and that we needed a core purpose to align us. It was there, but it wasn’t articulated well. We wrote a position statement, then developed five core values, and that’s what started the whole branding process for us. 

It wasn’t creating our culture, it was just putting words around the culture that already existed and creating alignment across all of our employees. We focused on that for over a year and then turned it to the outside. 

What was the outcome of that process? 

Quinn: You see it everywhere now when you think about the way we communicate with each other. We have conversations about making choices and offering new products and now we have a common language about doing the right thing. 

What advice do you have for small businesses when it comes to being a trustworthy brand?

Quinn: It’s easy for businesses to lose sight of their customers and to become internally focused. The best way to ensure that you’re trusted is to make sure you’re getting good feedback and listening to your customers and responding. 

What tool does U.S. Bank use that a small business can emulate? 

Quinn: Listening to social media is a good thing. You should always read your own propaganda. It doesn’t cost any money to go online and search your own business to get some honest feedback. The easiest thing to do is to talk yourself out of why the bad feedback isn’t true – but don’t do that. Dig in and make sure you’re addressing it. 

What advice do you have for business owners who want to build a reputable brand? 

Quinn: Number one, I’d say, be authentic. Don’t make a promise about something that you’re not delivering on. For example, don’t say you’re going to be the best customer service company in the world because that’s what sounds good and then not deliver on it. It’s better to explain to a customer that they might wait a little longer, but the quality of the product will be a little bit better, or to offer some other value proposition. Make sure that what you’re saying is what you’re delivering. 

Number two, listen to your customers. Make sure that your customers are feeling the same way about what you’re delivering as what you think you’re delivering. So listen to feedback from your customers and ensure there’s alignment. Don’t push away the feedback, because soon you’ll be out of business. 

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