Fickle consumers are making brand loyalty hard to achieve and with brand trust, a concept that is becoming increasingly critical, Edelman’s Sumeer Mathur shares how brands can regain that trust.

While much has been made of Ronaldo choosing water over Coca-Cola, the real reasons could run deeper. The last few years have seen accelerated changes that are instrumental in creating a paradigm shift. The world around us was collapsing, even before the pandemic hit.

Let’s look at these forces in greater detail. Climate change is making us question the nature of our consumption and the way companies and brands operate. Rising income inequality is making consumers question the system and make more populist choices with a view to usher in a change in the system. The infodemic and the rise of fake news are making us wary of the quality of information that guides our actions. The rise of belief-driven buying is making consumers align their purchase decisions with their belief system. Social movements have gained currency and many parts of the world are setting right historical wrongs. Brands will increasingly find themselves forced to traverse new fault lines – being a bystander may not be the best policy and definitely may not pay out in the long run.

Additionally, the pandemic has brought new anxieties of hygiene, physical safety and mental health. Social media ensures that new attitudes and awareness of issues in one part of the world ricochets around the world, making consumers question their favourite TV shows, celebrities and long-held reputations. Digital activism may not change the world but it does ensure that opinions circle the globe in real time. 

The age of trust

In a fast-changing world, the tendency is to look for reassurance and trust. And this trust is now turning elusive – the Edelman Brand Trust Barometer highlights that only one in three consumers trust most of the brands they buy.

The information age is now being replaced by the age of trust. We turn to what we trust to help us cope with uncertainty and our sense of vulnerability and anxiety. To be trusted in an ever more anxious, cynical and polarised world is the highest quality brands and corporates can aspire to.

Trust is the tailwind that carries your customer through their customer journey, the red carpet that delivers them to your website or store and makes them more accepting of brand messaging. Trust impacts both product delivery – will my hair really be shiny? – and social delivery – the brand recycles its plastic.

Trust itself has changed – this isn’t the trust of the past, which was basically familiarity and accrued over years. In the words of Harvard Business School professor Sandra Sucher, trust is bigger than reliability, it has a moral aspect.

Trust means consumers evaluate your impact and not just your intentions, and look at you in totality and not on just a few parameters. At Edelman, Trust is now defined by 15 metrics across five dimensions of:

  • Purpose (societal aspect);
  • Self (aligned with my values);
  • Ability (quality of product and services);
  • Dependability (keeps its promises); and
  • Integrity (does what is right).

Doing well on these dynamic dimensions can ensure brands overcome being cancelled by their consumers and stakeholders.

Brands that build trust earn big rewards in purchasing, loyalty, advocacy, defence and communications.

When a brand is trusted, buying accelerates (53% versus 25%).

  • More than twice as many respondents said that they would be loyal to a brand they trust versus one they do not in the face of a competitive launch (62% versus 29%).
  • More than twice as many will advocate for you (51% versus 24%) and nearly twice as many will defend you (43% versus 22%).

When they trust, people will also pay more attention to advertising (76% versus 48%).

What brands and corporates can do

Unfortunately, in the era of ad avoidance, trust cannot be bought and hence advertising alone is not the best builder of trust. Some 74% of respondents report they are actively avoiding advertising as per new data.

The good news is that new apertures now exist for brands who want to earn consumers’ trust. In the old days, product experience determined brand trust, which is the ability of the product to perform on important attributes and deliver functionality. Being certified with a seal of approval has signalled to consumers that a brand will perform as advertised and, therefore, can be trusted.

In the current internet era, the customer experience has become a new competitive advantage for brands. Brands are now asking consumers to trust them with their personal data, their credit card and a promise of hassle-free online returns. This is where Apple scores – by being proactive and doing the right thing and safeguarding users’ privacy, it is trusted in the world of tech companies.

Now, there is a third gate for brand trust, with brands taking on larger societal issues and cultural challenges. This is where Nike scores by being on the right side of history – by having a voice and aligning with the values of its target consumer. In India, Tanishq stands out for promoting progressive values that strike a chord with its target audience in a very tradition-bound category.

As brands focus increasingly on the importance of building trust at every interaction, we must remember that trust is built at the intersection of solving problems for people and society and must bring together what brands say and what they do.

In the words of leading psychologist and author Esther Perel, “Trust is the active engagement with the unknown. Trust is risky. It’s vulnerable. It’s a leap of faith.”

That is the power successful brands need to survive, compete and grow today.

Ultimately for brands, when they do a good job as trust makers, consumers know that the brand has their best interests in mind and they give it the benefit of doubt. Trust was once the ability to feel safe; today, it is the ability to take risks, fail and come back again.