Trust is a non-negotiable – and marketers must earn it

Trust is a non-negotiable – and marketers must earn it


If trust is the new currency for brands, how must they adapt to ensure that consumers get what they want from the businesses they interact with?

Trust is a profitable currency for brands. Marketers must help to ensure that wherever and whenever consumers interact with brands, loyalty is being built, not questioned or undermined.

In 2018, however, consumer trust in brands, organisations and institutions is fragile. Research from brand intelligence agency Attest shows that even well-known brands can lose consumer trust rapidly – its research found 25% of consumers who lost trust in a brand within the last year had been customers of the company for over 10 years.

Furthermore, news broke earlier this week that shoppers are now more loyal to Aldi and Lidl than other supermarkets, including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Research from ttc global found that Aldi has a net promoter score of 72, as opposed to Tesco, who score at just 33.

This isn’t customers flip-flopping between brands due to sheer number of options available; the very bedrock of trust itself has become unstable.

Issues around data protection, ethical missteps and price value have disrupted the notion of loyalty across all industries. Indeed, CIM research recently found that public trust in how organisations use their data is very low. Almost four in ten people (37%) say that they don’t trust any organisations to use their data responsibly.

How can the situation be improved? Contrary to popular opinion, Attest found that a brand’s ethical promises and actions have relatively little impact on trust levels. Trust isn’t built through feelgood actions and communications alone. Rather, its foundations are those five pillars of marketing – product, price, place, people and promotion.

Get the 5Ps right, and you can win the hearts and minds of customers for the long term.

Have a great product

Research shows that the number one reason (54%) for UK consumers to trust brands was good-quality products and services. The number one reason why UK consumers distrust brands was bad-quality products (26%), followed closely by bad customer support (20%). Technology companies were highly placed as ‘trusted’ in the research (with Apple the highest) – perhaps reflecting consumers’ reliance on internet-connected devices in our mobile, always-on world. Conversely, however, CIM found that 73% of people don’t trust technology platforms such as Facebook and Twitter with their personal data. Fashion brands were also well placed, despite the many stories of unethical practices along the industry’s supply chain. It’s a reminder that a product or service that delivers a regular and positive impact in people’s lives remains an unbeatable start point for brand trust.

Be clear about price

Consumers’ relationship with price is complex, and the golden rule for marketers is to be clear about what they will be paying, and why. Cheaper is not always better, and ‘too cheap’ might provoke as many suspicions as ‘too expensive’. When Marks and Spencer celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2009, its marketing campaign used the strapline ‘Quality worth every penny’ – reassuring customers that paying a little more meant they would get a better product. When brands lose trust it is rarely because of a particular unit price, but because a straightforward unit price is hard to find. Take utility services, train companies, hotel booking sites, mobile phone and internet service providers – all have come under fire for offering prices and tariffs that vary to such a degree, and change so often, that the customer rarely knows if they are getting the best deal. That’s no way to build trust.

Find your safe place

When it comes to ‘place’, it’s not just about being seen, it’s about where your brand is seen. In today’s world, this means digital channels – which are still evolving at pace. Unsuitable ad placement remains a concern for marketers, with some brands finding their ads alongside sometimes extreme content that conflicts with their values, on channels such as YouTube. But there’s a bigger picture, too. At the end of July, more than $119bn (£90.8bn) was wiped off Facebook’s market value, and its shares plunged 19%. The cause? The company revealed that 3 million users in Europe had abandoned the social network in recent months, following the Cambridge Analytica information breach of 87m Facebook profiles. This has a major impact for brands that place ads and content there. Furthermore, Google and Facebook still control over 60% of the advertising spend in the US. Previously such dominance looked unshakeable, but the duopoly is under threat. Amazon’s ad business, meanwhile, is growing – fast. Worth $2.8 billion in 2017, JPMorgan estimate Amazon’s ad revenues will reach $6.6 billion in 2019. Alexa’s voice search is also having an impact – but consumer trust is at the root of it. In Attest’s survey, Amazon is the fifth most trusted brand for UK consumers – Facebook is top of the list of least trusted brands.

People matter

Brand advocacy is a powerful tool when it comes to trust – and when employees and customers are a brand’s biggest advocates, that message becomes even stronger. Thinking of a brand as a community in which everyone plays their part, and in which everyone has the right to support, is a good place to start. Unsatisfactory customer support – including slow or non-existing responses to queries and complaints – is a major reason for consumers losing faith in a brand. Leadership matters here, too – a figurehead who brings a company into disrepute, or is unwilling to shoulder the blame for bad performance, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. But don’t forget the people on the ground. Trust in charities, for example, is volatile. A report by the not-for-profit research consultancy nfpSynergy, found that only around half of adults said they trusted charities to any significant degree. ‘Chuggers’ on the high street and unwanted phone calls asking to sign up to a direct debit are frequently cited as problematic – recent negative headlines surrounding blue-chip charities such as Oxfam are unlikely to help, either.

Transparency in promotion

Being honest about a product or service’s capabilities, and substantiating any claims made, is only the start when it comes to using promotion to engender trust. GDPR has reminded marketers – and the public – that a further cornerstone of advertising is to promote products and services directly to consumers only when it is wanted. The widespread use of ad blockers underlines this – and even Google has woken up to it. In February it started to automatically block intrusive ads within its Chrome browser. Marketers should also remember that the landscape of promotion is incredibly broad. It incorporates paid, owned and earned channels, extending from a brand’s own social media feeds to influencer marketing and review sites. Fake reviews, fake followers, and opaque relationships with bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers can all give consumers that sinking feeling about a brand.

For marketers, this is a rallying call to integrate trust across these touchpoints. It is no longer enough to say that you are trustworthy – in fact, this can often have the opposite effect. Instead, as the survey data has shown, its crucial to produce quality products and services. Marketers can then shore up trust with clear and simple prices, while being careful to ensure brand safety at every turn.

Find out more about how marketing can deliver a message of trust in the latest edition of CIM’s member-only magazine, Catalyst.

Martin Bewick
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