The World: Insider's View - Germany

During a recession, regaining the trust of consumers is high on a brand's agenda. But, however it chooses to do it, it is most important to listen and talk with the customer.

Today, we are all more sensitive to living in a biotope that's founded on trust. But we notice trust only when, like oxygen, we're running short of it.

Trust is indispensable because everyone's life depends on help from others. Since the major banks have collapsed, suspicion has dominated world culture. It's a suspicion that contaminates companies, institutions, politics and our future.

The German advertising and marketing community are competing with each other to spot the advertising that repeatedly uses words such as "crisis", "stimulus package" and "trust" as an attempt to encourage trust. But how do you win the trust of others?

For many brands, the answer to getting consumers to trust you again is to reward them. In Germany, brands going down this route are in food, textiles, home entertainment retailing and used car dealerships.

The electrical appliance discounters Media Markt and Saturn are running TV ads in the belief that offering discounts will make expensive purchases less painful.

Some banks are using their heritage and reputation to regain consumer trust. The creative industry calls this "history marketing" and believes, like George Bernard Shaw, that "tradition is a lantern, but only the fool adheres to it. For the wiser head, it lightens the way."

Differentiation via humour is how Burger King is seeking customer loyalty, by praising "consumption coupons" on its menu specials. The Hamburg DIY store Obi promises an "economic growth package" by offering discounts. Its message is clear: "Don't let things drag you down. You can keep dancing when the party's over too."

This is an example of how brands can promise people a more impactful conversation. Communication will be simpler, more transparent and built on insights.

They promise an end to small print and hidden clauses. Such brands often give themselves a new coat of paint, new logo or slogan, too. Beware of wet paint!

And, finally, there are brands that believe telling a story will banish the fear consumers have and draw them into conversations that will gain their trust. But the big challenge is how to communicate a feeling of well-being, evoke a sense of longing and warmth that will reignite trust and help get the wheels of commerce rolling again.

Whether brands use discounts, tradition, humour, sober objectivity or storytelling, all have a single obligation - to listen and be open to dialogue with the customer.

Yes, listening can sometimes be painful for brands and, yes, facing up to what people think demands courage. But brands that face up to the needs of their customers are the ones that will make it through this crisis.

- Martin Riesenfelder is the chief creative officer at Wunderman Germany.