Over the past few years, Edelman’s consumer research has uncovered the rise of belief-driven buying and highlighted the phenomenon of brands taking a stand. We’ve watched— popcorn in hand — as brands from Nike to AirBnB have used paid content and advertising to promote their shared values with consumers.
Our research this year confirms that this is a valid strategy. Ninety percent of consumers globally said it’s more important that they can trust the brands they buy. Product efficacy is still very much top of mind for them (“I can’t afford a bad purchase”). But 55 percent of consumers say that trusting a brand now matters more to them because they feel vulnerable, due to brands’ use of personal data and customer tracking; and because they feel that a brand should serve as their conduit for societal change (69 percent). In fact, 68 percent of respondents said that when a brand earns their full trust—across product, customer experience and societal impact—they will buy first, stay loyal to, advocate for and defend that brand, compared to just 47 percent who trust only the product alone.
However, there is a warning for brands on the horizon. While societal trust is an accelerant to purchase, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned that brands are taking victory laps on social issues without actually effecting any change. This “trustwashing” phenomenon is confirmed by 56 percent of global respondents who agree that brands are using a stance on social issues as a marketing ploy, and 53 percent who believe brands are less than truthful when talking about their impact on society.
For example, “Fearless Girl,” the statue of a defiant girl placed to face down the Wall Street bull statue, was quickly lauded as a powerful example of a societal stance. But almost as quickly, the company behind it, State Street Global Advisors, came under fire for systemic issues of gender pay equity and a lack of female executives. Contrast that with Dove Men+Care, which recently made hay on a stance supporting broader access to paternity leave. The content was supported by a $1 million fund offering microgrants to fathers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take time off.
Beyond making a tangible commitment, the research points to other key trust levers for brands to pull. First, the obvious: Be honest in your marketing. Authentic and sincere marketing strengthens enduring trust with consumers. And when you’re trusted, you’ll have their attention; 76 percent of consumers report that they pay attention to communications from a brand they trust versus 48 percent of people who don’t fully trust a brand.
Second, consider the voices you’re using to tell your story. This year, 74 percent of respondents report they are actively avoiding advertising. Our online influencer survey of 18-to-34- year-olds found that 63 percent trust what influencers say about a brand more than what the brand says about itself. In addition, who are the top three most trusted spokespeople for a brand message? People like me, experts and company employees – more authentic and relatable voices.
Third, not only is repetition of your message important, but sequencing also makes a difference. The research shows that it’s better to lead with peer voices. Then deploy owned, social and paid channels to build the most trust in your message.
The lesson to be learned here? Harken back to the early days of Google, and “don’t be evil.” Let’s make sure as marketers we're holding our organizations’ collective feet to the fire and deliver on the opportunity to make real change in society.
Amanda Glasgow is Global Brand Community Chair.