Trust is indispensable to brands. It takes years to build, but seconds to lose. Regaining trust once it’s lost is difficult, especially given that the internet never forgets.
Today’s economy is moving away from products and towards relationships and services, which are founded on trust.
But trust of what? Whom? In our most recent webinar, buzzback’s Martin Oxley (Managing Director, Europe) presented our findings on trust in the US, UK, and China; discussed what it means for consumers, how a brand can get it right, and how to manage it. Martin was joined by Omar Mahmoud (UNICEF, P&G) and Vicky Nef (Logitech, P&G), two insight professionals with decades of consumer insights experience.
When, and for whom, is trust important?
Trust is pivotal for consumers. We rely on the products that make up our daily experiences; we trust our alarm clocks to go off, our food to be safe to eat, our coffee machines to work, and our cars to safely get us to where we need to go.
Seven in 10 consumers in the US and UK, and 90% of consumers in China, indicated that trust is an extremely important factor in their purchase decisions. Trust is also essential to consumer retention. In the US alone, 69% of consumers switch to a different brand once trust has been broken.
Vicky discussed how insights helped pinpoint that one driving factor of trust is the ratings of a product on websites such as Amazon. Trust is also pivotal to the non-profit sector. Research Omar conducted for UNICEF showed that trust is a crucial factor in a donor’s decision-making process across countries.
The hunter-gatherer in a digital age
The importance of trust is a lesson in evolutionary psychology. As a species, we are 300,000 years old and have had the same brain the whole time. Only in the last 10,000 years have humans settled in agricultural societies. The evolutionary need for direct contact is reflected in the desire to forge personal connections. The basis for human communication – and connection – is through imagery, body language, and facial expressions.
Images can betray the truth when there is a discrepancy between appearance and speech, hence the adage “actions speak louder than words.” Additionally, we are naturally risk averse. When given a reason to not trust something or someone, it is hard to change this belief. Understanding the consumer as a hunter-gatherer living in the technological world where we cannot physically convey our trust with gestures such as shaking hands explains why trust is crucial for brands.
As work and commerce have shifted from in-person to online, the importance of trust in consumer brand relationships has been heightened. Without the security afforded when shopping in person, trust is required when purchasing goods and services online. As Vicky noted, commerce at a distance means that we, as consumers, are looking for a genuine connection and trust that things are the way they are made out to be. This is why eBay, for example, has a strong focus on fakes and a dedicated safety center for counterfeit items.
What goes into trust?
We know why trust matters, but what does trust actually mean? Trust is something that is built over time and is constantly forward-looking. Consumers value reliability in brands – knowing that future purchases and support will deliver what is expected.
Trust is inherently emotional and cannot be fully understood through data – it transcends pure rationality. For example, Nike, which our research found to be a top trusted brand across the US, UK, and China, appeals to human emotions with its slogan “Just do it.” Building trust with consumers is a multi-dimensional effort and not always overt.
While the drivers of trust varied across markets, two things stood out. First, the performance of a brand matters. Across the three surveyed markets, 85-90% of consumers indicated that the quality and value of products are crucial factors in trusting a brand. This occurs when the quality of the products and services are delivered as, or better, than expected. Amazon is a brand that succeeds in this. They promise a quick delivery time and low prices. Additionally, they quickly rectify any issues. Second, the integrity, or character, of the brand is paramount. Brand transparency is a critical factor, and consumers want to know they can trust the brand to do the right thing when they are not being watched.
Transparency also includes concern for how employees are treated, how funds are used, and where products and components are sourced. In the US and UK alone, initiatives on employee benefits and treatments strongly impact brand trust for 75-80% of respondents. The latter is not easy to ensure, as the brand cannot account for every element of a product.
However, honesty on the part of the brand can make up for this, as people are more willing to cut slack if brands acknowledge their faults upfront. Environmental, and social initiatives were essential for 60% of US and UK consumers, and they were impactful for 87% of Chinese respondents. We anticipate that this will become even more important in the years to come with an increasing concern for sustainability.
While our research and discussion unveil the importance of trust for brands, it is just the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ There is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully gaining and maintaining trust with consumers. Not only do values differ between markets and sectors, but each brand has its own history and unique consumer perception.
Consumer insights are indispensable in helping brands understand their consumer and brand perception, and tailor their approach to building trust. While the digital age is altering marketplace interactions, our natural drives and desires stay the same. We are, after all, living in a Digital World with a Stone Age Brain.