Study: Trust is king but customers don't trust the brands they're buying

Sincerity wins prosperity, as consumers are being shown to put greater trust in online influencers but are growing cynical about brand motives. A new special report from Edelman shows that brands who take the time to prove their sincerity and earn consumer trust have the potential to reap immense rewards.

The “In Brands We Trust?” study took place from April-May 2019 and split its research into two parts. A brand-focused portion covered eight markets (China, Japan, France, Germany, Brazil, India, UK, and US), while the portion focused on influencers covered three (China, UK and US). For the former, there were over 16,000 online survey respondents (2,000 per market) and 8,000 mobile survey respondents (1,000 per market), and for the latter results were gathered from 1,500 respondents (500 per market) to an online influencer survey.

Though 53% of respondents believed that brands had a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue (that did not directly impact its business), only 21% of them agreed that from personal experience the brands they used had the best interests of society in mind.

Consumers are more conscious of issues than ever with 64% of those surveyed considering themselves belief driven buyers. An overwhelming 81% agreed that they must be able to trust the brand to do what is right (88% in China). Yet,  fatigue with opportunistic attempts by brands to glob onto issues may be rising. Over half of those surveyed (56%) believed that too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell more of their product.

And earning trust seems to be a crucial factor. Brands that are trusted are almost twice as likely than those that are not to; have customers make their first buy (53% versus 25%), to have customers stay loyal (62% versus 29%), to have customers advocate for them (51% versus 24%), and to have customers defend them (43% versus 22%). Furthermore, if a currently used brand is trusted, 76% will pay attention to its ads, compared to 48% if not trusted.

That trust should be gained fast. Because though 67% agreed that a good reputation may get them to initially try a product unless they come to trust the company behind the product, they will soon stop buying it. Worryingly, only 34% trusted most of the brands they buy or use (39% in China).

What earns that trust? 87% said they trust a brand based on product considerations, 56% would trust a brand based on customer considerations, and 38% trust the brand based on societal considerations.

The top concerns consumers had about products were the pace of innovation, their increasing reliance on brands to automate their lives, and their inability to afford a purchase that would turn out badly later. When it came to customer experience, the use of personal data was a big concern as was the idea brands tracking and targeting them, along with some discomfort at AI being used for customer service rather than humans. Society was an interesting mix of consumers concerned about whether or not brands were involved in societal issues and expressed their values, but also their association with fake news and misinformation.

Brands were more trusted than the government in all regions, save for China, which had incredibly high ratings for both the government and brands at 86% and 80% respectively. But there’s a big dark cloud to go with that silver lining. it was not thought that brands had better ideas to solve problems than governments (41%) or that brands could do more to solve social ills than the government (49%). Consumers didn’t even think it was easier for people to get brands to address social problems than to get the government to take action (48%). And all those scores were down 4-6% from last year.

The dealbreaker attributes respondents said they are looking for in brands are:

  • Its supply chain (79%)
  • The customer before profits (78%)
  • Good reviews (77%)
  • Reputation (73%)
  • Values (72%)
  • Environmental impact (71%)

While for products issues were a lot simpler:

  • Quality (85%)
  • Convenience (84%)
  • Value (84%)
  • Ingredients (82%)

The other big part of the research study was its look at online behaviours. And it doesn’t make happy reading with 74% using one or more advertising avoidance strategies. These are a mix of ad blocking, changing their habits to dodge habits, and putting up the cash to pay for streaming. Ad blocking still leads the methods though at 48% using a tool.

But online may be a trust haven, and influencers the lords of it. Though there has been much questioning (and downright mockery by some) as to their effectiveness, Edelman’s study found that 63% trusted what influencers say about brands much more than what brands say about themselves in their advertising.  Because of an influencer, 58% said they had bought a product, 40% had trusted a brand, and 33% had talked with others about a brand.

The final surprise of the report - that stands as a warning to marketers solely chasing follower counts - is that the relatability of an influencer was found to have double the importance to consumers that popularity had. So finding that niche respected content creator might be better than slapping your brand label on the next Jake Paul.