The big deal about ‘Trust at first sight’ - PART I

When I started my research about this topic, most people gave me a matter of fact reasoning – “trust is earned”, “bharosa to barson mein banta hai” and similar blah... But if trust was only so much about long term relations, why do we end up trusting (almost) random people with life’s important decisions - the friend’s mother you were able to pour heart out to, that broker who was able to convince you to buy a bigger house or the fund manager who managed to increase your confidence in a risky investment option, or for everyone who had an arranged marriage - the guy/girl you met once and decided to get married to…Huh! Now how does that happen??

So dear readers, in the next few lines/paragraphs/pages(!) I would try to scrape off the tip of the iceberg called ‘trust’ and our mysterious abilities to indulge into it almost instantly when encountered with suitable triggers. However, let me note here that there’s hardly any formula that you might find here, infact it might raise more questions instead…but that’s where the meat lies!

So coming back, it’s obviously much easier to build trust with the luxury of time, when you get multiple opportunities in various situations, like the colleague I met on my first day of job, the guys/girls some of you would have dated before getting married. But there are many more situations, where one has to make up one’s mind almost instantly or create an instant impression – like an arranged marriage meeting, a job interview, a new client meeting, a new bank/financial company experience or the simplest – the 3 seconds window that a new brand gets sitting on the super market shelf!

Our mind stores information in clusters. Like an automated sorter, we unconsciously make patterns from everything that we experience through life. Every new experience/thing/instance gets decoded by our contextual selves and gets associated with one of the numerous existing patterns in our head.

Trust works the same way too, through our lives we learn to trust many people, places, things, products, brands, symbols etc. Based on these we create patterns of trust which act like a filter to asses each new experience we get into. While the filter aims at finding intrinsic values which can be tested in the long term, it also looks for physical attributes which usually give us the confidence to trust almost instantly.

Now imagine getting hold on the general patterns of this ‘trustable physicality’ which if incorporated in new stuff gives a chance of creating instant trust! Now, that’ll be cool!
In order to find this eluding answer, I started a semiotic decoding of people/places/things that we already trust, which did take me to some interesting spaces.

Starting with people, the one person who everyone trusts?

Simple answer: Mother

Before I say further, imagine an image of a mother, NOT necessarily your mother, someone imaginary but one who could completely epitomize trust & reliability.

…….(Yeah. I really want you to imagine)

Do you see a middle aged woman, healthy-ly curvy/ slightly plump, dressed in a sari/salwar kameez, accessorized with gold bangles, earrings or a neck chain, a round red bindi and comfortable footwear.
Having tried this on 20 people, I got this characterization 90% of the time!

Besides uncovering our stereotypical selves (thanks to Nirupa Roys & Tulsis of the world), this points towards 3 key physical aspects:
  1. The healthy plumpness
  2. The age
  3. The Traditional but simple attire
Let’s see what is it about them that helps exuberate trust:

The Healthy Plumpness: A loving, trustable mother can never be thin or even tending towards it. The plumpness is like the mark, a reminder of her having gone through the maternal bliss of pregnancy, the union of the child & the bearer, something so pure and complete that it just cannot be shed away as extra pounds. It also symbolizes the inherent softness and completeness of her very role. Skinny or angular features give a certain edginess/cunning-ness to the character which is completely out of place for a mother in our culture.

Further, circles/spheres are also the most used symbols of denoting complete-ness and stability. There’s must be a reason why there’s a ‘Circle of trust’ & not ‘square of trust’!

Now put this learning into the hard corporate world. Remember the most trusted company of India. Now remember its identity:

A rounded identity outline with smoothed lines and chunky plump font. Spot on!

Check identities of other institutes where trust is a key requirement - like banks as they deal with money - they would follow similar style:
The age: The trustable mother needs to have some years of experience behind her. A sense of oldness cues knowledge, experience and hence credibility. Just the pretense of age-old-ness can lend a hell lot of trust.

A 16 yr old Mumbai real estate builder has a logo which makes it look like 100 yrs old brand… see it to believe it!

Other similar examples of brands which exhibit ‘age old experience’ as a key design thought:

The Traditional simple attire: The traditional-ness of the attire takes us to an older, authentic, tried and tested space where one could just trust without any skepticism, where one can be a child again and get rid of the responsibilities & stress of current life. Add to it the simple-ness of the attire, it cues
uncomplicating life by moving back to the roots where the world is pure and unadulterated.

Many brands use this value of simple authenticity that can instantly connect with the consumer:

So that’s about mommy dear, but does this define the world of trust?, Hell no! Remember the scraping of the iceberg….well we’ve just started….more on this in Part II.

By Runjhun Pacholi
AGM – Strategy
DY Works

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