Oct 16, 2023
Are Marketers Equipped to Build Trust for the Long-Term?
By John Wolfe
Consumers’ trust in brands is dramatically evolving. Marketers need to revisit their strategies for building trust with their customers, lest they face dwindling returns or, even worse, become irrelevant. That’s one of the key conclusions from the recent “2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report.” The study, which was based on 13,802 consumer respondents in 14 countries worldwide, revealed the following:
- More than 70 percent of respondents said it is more important to trust the brands they buy from or use today than in the past.
- Trust was the third most important consideration behind “good value for the money” and “best quality.”
- Almost 80 percent of respondents said they uncover things that attract them and make them loyal to a brand after their first purchase.
- About 50 percent said they do most of their brand research after they buy, a finding that totally upends the traditional purchasing funnel.
The report said the traditional sales funnel is broken because purchase is no longer the endpoint and consumers no longer behave in sequential stages. Perhaps most salient for marketers — 59 percent of respondents said that trusting a brand is more likely to drive purchasing and 67 percent said it spurs loyalty and advocacy.
“In these unpredictable times, it’s most important for marketers to know their brands and know their consumers,” says Courtney Miller, EVP, head of strategy at ANA member Edelman. “We’ve learned that trust can be broken, and consumers disengage for two reasons: 76 percent say brands go wrong when they lack relevance [their interactions are unwanted, exploitative, intrusive, or exclusive] or 51 percent say that brands are inauthentic [their interactions are uninteresting, inauthentic, out of touch].”
She adds, “These two principles of trust are so simple yet can be the cause of broken trust for many brands who haven’t spent the time investing in knowing themselves and their consumers.”
Don’t Force Trust
“The thing is, you can’t force trust,” says Courtney Saul, EVP of partnerships and experiments at ad agency Chemistry, whose clients include Beyond Meat , Five Guys, and Netflix. “Brands have to build trust over time and in different ways, just like any other relationship. … The most trusted brands focus on making people feel something, motivating them, helping them to consider something new, see the world differently — sometimes even surprise them. These are the ways brands build trust, through meaningful connection and action, not through a funnel.”
Chemistry recently created a trust-oriented ad campaign for its client CG Insurance, which resides in a category that has long grappled with trust issues. The agency fielded a consumer study and found that family members were the most influential when it came to insurance purchasing decisions, so the message centered on a family member.
“We created Aunt Angie — a lovable, eccentric aunt who’s been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale of CG coverage,” Saul says. “Her stories may be complicated, but with CG, the coverage isn’t.” Marketers and agency executives stress that establishing trust involves focusing brand messaging on three primary areas: simplicity, consistency, and distribution channels.
“Understanding that consumers are getting hit with an endless amount of content of varying quality, all vying for their constant attention, should spotlight the need for brands to lead with simplicity and deliver clear, valuable, and consistent brand experiences that will, in turn, build trust over time,” says Madeline Sanchez, co-head of strategy at ANA member MONO, an ad agency.
MONO, whose clients include the American Red Cross and Sherwin-Williams, created a campaign for the online dating site Bumble titled “The New Rules of the Game” that shows how the brand is putting trust and safety at the forefront of dating. The effort highlights new safety tools, which allow women to date by their own rules.
Kate Jeffers, partner and president of Venables Bell + Partners (VB+P), whose clients include Girl Scouts of the USA and Scout Motors, says, “The only way to build trust in this environment is through consistency — brands must give consumers consistently positive product experiences and behave consistently in all interactions. This is not an easy feat with nagging supply chain issues and an explosion of AI experimentation.”
Jeffers says Chipotle’s “Behind the Foil” is a prime example of a campaign supporting brand trust. The campaign, with its first iteration launching in 2019 and its third in August 2023, highlights the brand’s commitment to real food ingredients and real food prepared fresh daily in its restaurants.
Coordinate the Message
When thinking about how to cultivate trust, marketers need to carefully consider what channels they want to deploy.
“Every channel can play a role if used correctly,” says Chemistry’s Saul. “Owned, earned, paid, shared — all of these serve different purposes in allowing brands to interact with their consumers on various levels, and for different reasons. It’s more about using the channels the way that they should be used. You must dress the part for the platform. Read the room. You can’t just throw a TV ad on TikTok; you can’t try and say too much on a billboard.”
Yoram “Jerry” Wind, the Lauder Professor Emeritus and professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, stresses the importance of coordinating the message. “Consistency across all the channels is key, and make sure you are shifting to an omnichannel strategy offering consumers a seamless experience across all online and offline channels,” he says.
To gain (or regain) trust, it’s also essential for marketers to transcend looking at consumers through a purely transactional lens.
“I think great marketers have to think bigger than a single moment in time or transaction, and establish long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with consumers,” Jeffers says. “The investment required is well worth it, as it allows companies to benefit from product diversification, price elasticity, loyalty, and a good-will bank, if ever needed.”
Chemistry’s Saul says marketers need to remind themselves that consumers are “real humans and not target audiences” that fit into a demographic box on a spreadsheet.
“Brands shouldn’t focus on targeting [people], but instead work on connecting with them,” she says. “People, especially gen Z, choose brands because they like what the brand stands for, what the brand says, does, and, yes, sells, too. But no one wants to be sold to, so bury the sell, make it part of the approach. It’s about a mix of marketing tactics and messaging that do different things for the consumer: entertain, educate, sell, ask, reward, sell again, entertain, advocate, inspire.”
Lynne Field, head of strategy at FutureBrand North America, says it is imperative that marketers take the trust issue seriously and act quickly because consumer trust in brands is rapidly evolving.
“Marketers need to recognize the urgency,” she says. “Our research shows that a lack of corporate trust is considered one of the biggest threats to future business success as determined by the more than 3,000 informed professionals surveyed around the globe for the ‘FutureBrand Index 2023.'”
Field adds that brands should adopt a customer-journey view to assess their ability to deliver on purpose through every aspect of the consumer experience and adjust where necessary.
“Act decisively,” she says. “We are seeing brands that are perceived to be lukewarm or half-hearted in their efforts to align company purpose with tangible customer experience under-perform. Now, more than ever, it’s not enough for a company to say it has a meaningful purpose and will act. It must be seen to fulfill its promises, to be fair and honest, to support the community, and to actively contribute to society.”
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