A Matter of Trust

August 2, 2019

By Matthew Schwartz

dane_mark/Getty Images

Edelman's latest Trust Barometer Special Report should make marketers cringe.

"In Brands We Trust?" found that more than half of the 24,000 respondents (56 percent) think that too many brands are using societal issues as a marketing ploy.

"Consumers are wary that brands are 'trustwashing,' and being less than truthful about their commitment to society," said Amanda Glasgow, global chair of Brand at Edelman, in a statement. "Talking about an issue in an ad isn't enough. Brands need to go further to impact real change. This could be anything from advocacy to financial support to internal reforms."

The study found that a majority of respondents (53 percent) believe every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business, yet fewer than one in four respondents (21 percent) claim to know from personal experience that the brands they use keep the best interests of society in mind. Forty-one percent of consumers have lost faith in brands and their ability to ignite social change.

"Being and demonstrating that they are an agent of positive societal change is the biggest trust-related challenge and opportunity for brands today," David Bersoff, senior VP, global thought leadership research at Edelman Intelligence, told ANA.

But if brand managers think consumer trust is declining now, they're in for a rude awakening.

That's because millennials — who are 80-million strong, with a growing influence on business, society, and culture — are increasingly skeptical of businesses' motives and impact on society, according to a new survey by Deloitte (hat tip to eMarketer).

"Global Millennial Survey 2019" found that 55 percent of respondents said that business has a positive impact on wider society, down from 61 percent in 2018. The survey is based on the responses from 3,000-plus millennials in 42 countries.

According to the survey, millennials start and stop relationships with companies based on the companies' positive or negative impacts on society. For example, 42 percent of respondents said they have started/deepened business relationships if they perceive the company has products that positively impact the environment/society.

Yet despite their best efforts in the last several years to bond with their customers and promote their social activism — rather than simply push product — brands continue to leave consumers cold.

For the last several years, of course, brands have touted the benefits of integrated communications and why it's crucial to break down business siloes.

Well, here's a perfect instance in which integrated communications can play a vital role. Marketers need to work closely with advertising, PR, HR and senior management to institute the kind of changes that will build trust and convince skeptical consumers to pivot their thinking regarding specific brands.

With that in mind, here's a few tips for how brands cultivate trust and flip the consumer narrative.

 

Swap 'Authenticity' for Candor

Let's face it. Brands have abused the word "authentic" to such a degree that the word seems to have lost all meaning. When consumers are constantly told that a company is being "authentic" in its actions what consumers hear is a marketing buzzword or, worse, a corporate device to dodge real change. Rather than manufacture new ways to be "authentic" — which is an invitation for consumers to retrieve their B.S. detectors — companies should simply tell their constituents what they're doing to be a better corporate citizen and follow-through with legitimate action, layered with candor, warts and all.

 

Make the 'Greater Good' More Tangible

Brands are to be applauded for supporting efforts to reduce poverty, improve the environment and fund education for people who can't afford it. White papers and annual reports promoting a brand's charitable efforts and/or social activism are fine. Yet, as the Edelman study indicates, most consumers are unaware that the brands they buy keep the best interests of society in mind. Brands not only need to do a much better job explaining how they're improving society, but how their constituents can get involved in such efforts.

Deploying multiple media channels, companies have to make it easy for their audiences to contribute to causes they have aligned with, whether that's facilitating teaching opportunities in poor areas, enabling people to participate in Big Brother/Big Sister programs or volunteering to refurbish dilapidated neighborhoods. Distributing self-congratulatory emails regarding a company's social activism is, for most consumers, theoretical. To flip people's mindset, brands have to offer concrete steps for how their audiences can make a legitimate difference in the world. Stick-to-itiveness is key. Otherwise, any momentum for building trust is likely to collapse.

 

It's the Little Things

In order to establish a baseline of trust, people have to feel that companies want to make their lives easier. That means doing the little things: Make it easy for consumers to navigate call centers and place contact information prominently on your company's home page so people don't have to jump through digital hoops to find someone who can address their problems and/or issues quickly. Develop corporate communications that are less scripted and more conversational. Personalize online communications so people are addressed by their first name and receive a pleasant note on their birthday or wedding anniversary (even better to include a digital gift card or discount on their next purchase). The cost of doing these things is minimal, but the yield in terms of more trusting consumers can be quite high. Once brands establish trust in tactical areas, it's easier to garner trust for the big-ticket items.


You must be logged in to submit a comment.