US firms struggle to regain trust

15 June 2011

NEW YORK: Shoppers in the US still display low levels of trust in brand owners, with technology and packaged food manufacturers among the operators effectively bucking this trend.

Research firm GfK Custom Research North America polled 1,000 adults to gain an insight into popular attitudes towards corporate America.

Some 64% of contributors agreed it was more difficult for companies to gain their trust today than a few years ago, and 55% asserted this is likely to remain the case.

"Trust is one of the most important factors that American corporations need to focus on if they are going to engage and retain their most loyal and influential customers," said David Krajicek, co-president of GfK Custom Research North America.

"Communication and transparency are paramount moving forward for companies to shore up and rebuild levels of trust that have been flagging among American consumers."

The broader loss of confidence has proved especially profound for the demographic described as "The Influential Americans" - or the 10% of individuals generally involved in fuelling social transformation.

In all, 74% of this audience had lost faith in businesses, and 61% did not anticipate such a situation would change in the near future.

Across all clusters, 77% of interviewees stated unduly inflated executive pay constituted the primary matter undermining trust ratings.

Management corruption delivered 71%, with firms making up reduced earnings at their customers' expense on 69%, and the increasing number of goods being made abroad on 62%.

Declining product and service quality yielded 56%, poor treatment of workers lodged 43%, instability shown by the "top" industry players received 41%, and database security threats generated 40%.

A disregard for the environment was cited by 37% of those questioned, matching the tally recorded by insufficient governmental oversight, and beating stock market volatility, on 35%.

Technology companies led the favourability rankings, securing 60%, reaching 70% for the 10% of consumers studied in greater detail.

"With 'The Influential Americans' history of being leading indicators of mainstream technology adoption - which we've seen in recent years in their passion for smart phones and social networking - this finding is significant," Krajicek said.

"This indicates how technology innovations and improved product and service quality can help drive perceptions of trust."

Retailers registered 71% when discussing the complete sample, four points ahead of the score logged by people typically at the vanguard of pursuing new habits.

Elsewhere, the landscape was largely similar regarding packaged food manufacturers, as totals hit 65% and 60% respectively, the report said.

The gap closed to 61% and 60% in turn for personal care, while automakers were actually awarded 56% from the trendsetting cohort, surpassing 44% across the entire survey community.

Equally, organisations in the pharma sector achieved 52% with the early adopters and 44% overall, and media outlets posted 49% concerning the first segment, and 44% if the panel was expanded outwards.

Insurance providers and financial services experts also attained 44% and 45% among GfK's group of influencers, again stronger than the norm.

"The Influential Americans' role as word-of-mouth leaders - folks who are actively recommending products and services - means that, if approached correctly they could be allies in rebuilding trust in the financial services industry," said Doug Cottings, Managing Director, GfK Financial Services.

This may be particularly important given GfK Roper Consulting previously revealed only 16% of the US public expected corporate corruption would "get better" in the coming five years.

Such a figure has fallen by nine percentage points since 2003.

Data sourced from GfK Custom Research North America; additional content by Warc staff