I had an opportunity to present at the Arthur W. Page/Tuck Symposium this week in New York City. During my presentation, I talked about 14 aspects of how great brands build trust online. Most brands today do not come close to doing all 14, but the future online leaders are working hard to get there and will succeed. Here is what matters if you are building a great brand.

#1 – Customers are co-shaping your brand everyday – many brands don’t realize that they have outsourced their brand value to their customers, who are more than happy to discuss, position and debate its value in blogs, forums and social media sites. The great brands of today know that it is important to partner with their customers to tell their story together. Teamwork is in, command and control from HQ is out.

#2 – Leaders identify issues before they happen – think of it as the crystal ball approach. In the “old days”, we would prepare thick crisis manuals and hold issues management meetings to prepare for the big “spike of news” that could occur at anytime. Today, however, you can see patterns emerge online before an issue becomes publicly discussed in a significant way. However, this takes state-of-the-art monitoring and an internal commitment to share information in real-time across business units and across languages. Issues management, done well, is a team effort within a company. It is not the domain of a single department.

#3 – You realize that customers don’t care where you want them to go – customers gravitate to the communities and conversations that meet their needs. Often without knowing it, customers will subtly evolve their patterns as they pursue the content and conversations they want. This is why I refer to it as the “liquid network”. It is constantly in motion.

#4 – You know that – the opportunity is in the 99%, which consists of browsing and socializing. Great brands realize that their most important customers are learning about their brands and interacting with them well before they make a purchase, particularly a large purchase. They know that interactions at the purchase path are important, but often too late, which is why conversion rates are often lower than expected for e-commerce sites. Great brands are realizing that email, catalogs and banner ads are deteriorating in value everyday.

#5 – You focus on how people will consume content and how it is changing 
you realize that people are trending towards learning via video, which is why YouTube is now the 2nd largest search engine. You know that Brazil is consuming more content per day than most countries. You are a student of how habits are changing and what they mean. You don’t get lost in statistics, you actually interpret and understand their significance.

#6 – You know where conversations are occurring about your brand 
Great brands know where the conversations are occurring and they have become a relevant participant. You know which keywords matter. This is normal business for you.

#7 – You realize customers don’t care about destination sites 
they care about relevant content. If you build, they will not come. It’s about understanding how to syndicate your content effectively across all online properties. It’s about ubiquity. You also realize that 10-20% of your customers might call you each year due to an issue, but rarely do any call you to catch up. You need to go to them.

#8 – Customers want to do three things to help each other 
they don’t care about your company. Customers care deeply about each other. They want to share ideas to help create better products and services; share product knowledge to help peers make the right purchase decision; and offer solutions that can solve problems.

#9 – Great brands don’t have to measure trust internally, they live it 
when you really embrace social media, you can see the comments, blog posts, ideas and solutions from your employees. You know if and where your company is passionate and you know where there is work to be done. You don’t need a survey.

#10 – Great brands realize we judge a person on how they interact with us –
your interactions online and on the phone define who you are in the minds of your customers. You ask yourself if the best ambassadors for your company are the ones talking with your customer today. If they are not, you ensure they are properly trained and they provide the best possible customer experience. You don’t pretend to care about this.

#11 – We listen to our customers and create communities they desire 
often, these will be communities driven by our customers. After all, it’s about us empowering our customers to share their knowledge with each other and ourselves. You can look in the mirror and say three times “it’s not about our company, it’s about our customers” and mean it.

#12 – We know preparing for yesterday is ineffective 
yesterday’s thinking causes us to place high value on depreciating assets. For example, what is the real influence of top rankings if mainstream media is decreasing in total SOV online? We always thought the brand is king. Turns out the brand plus personality is king. And there is the belief that high awareness is good. Not really. Building quality brand value with the right people is good. High awareness is often mindless investment to get numbers that customers don’t care about.

#13 – We understand ethical behavior is critical to building and maintaining trust online 
great brands simply never entertain doing flogs (fake blogs) or splogs (sponsored blogs). They understand you can’t pay for relevance. They engage in real conversations.

#14 – Great brands all have a common filter 
it goes something like this. “We know that leaders will enter and become relevant in conversations that occur every day in every language all around the world in communities of importance to our customers”

It’s an exciting time for companies to build exceptional brand value. Those who realize it is not only time to think outside the box, but, perhaps, also get rid of the box, will do very well.