Trust has always played an important role in brand purchase. Since the inception of brand as a means of differentiating products, there has been a promise made to consumers on quality, performance, ingredients and availability. In the U.K. in the 1880s, William Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever), launched Sunlight Soap, which guaranteed consistent quality at a time when the origins and ingredients of a bar of soap were uncertain. In the United States, Good Housekeeping magazine introduced the Good Housekeeping Seal over a century ago to reassure consumers of the quality and integrity of products, pledging a money-back guarantee for products that advertised in the publication.
Now there is a larger expectation of brands, as Edelman has found that nearly two-thirds of consumers are belief-driven buyers. Purchase conveys agreement with the values and purpose of the brand, with functional attributes now simply the price of entry. At the same time, consumers are looking to brands to fill a void in global governance left by divided and populist government. My purchase of products each week makes more of a difference than my vote every four years in the broader debate on issues such as tolerance, environment and education. I want brands to stand with me. An enduring consumer relationship is now built on the basis of delivering on the promise of Brand Democracy.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust?, conducted this spring among 16,000 respondents in eight developed and developing nations, shows this brand evolution from function to belief. On par with the usual product attributes of quality, value, convenience and ingredients, a major consideration for brand purchase is now “I can trust the brand to do what is right,” at 81 percent of respondents. More than 70 percent of respondents also link purchase to considerations that historically were tied to trust in corporations, including supply chain, reputation, values, environmental impact and customer before profit.
Brand trust is essential to purchase across diverse countries, from Brazil (91 percent) to France (63 percent), and across categories as disparate as banking (83 percent) and technology (80 percent). It’s true for men and women, for all age groups and income brackets. As our Edelman Trust Barometer study from January 2019 showed, two-thirds of respondents agree that a good reputation may get me to try a product, but I will soon stop buying it unless I trust the company behind the brand.
Brands are largely failing the trust test. Shockingly, just one in three respondents said that they trust most of the brands they buy and use (fewer than one-in-four respondents in France and Germany). Only 21 percent of respondents know from personal experience that the brands they use keep the best interests of society in mind. More than half of respondents (56 percent) said that too many brands are using societal issues as a marketing ploy. In a turnaround from last year, consumers have lost confidence that brands have better ideas for solving problems than government (down five points to 41 percent).
Where is the disconnect? First, brands need to do, not just differentiate; among people’s reasons for trusting a brand, ethical behavior (82 percent) is just as important as user experience (87 percent). Second, there’s too much reliance on advertising. Nearly threequarters of respondents say they find ways to avoid advertising (up 10 points from last year), from ad blockers to use of ad-free networks. Our online influencer survey found 63 percent of respondents aged 18-to-34 trust what an influencer says about a brand more than what the brand says about itself in advertising. Third, brands must deploy new kinds of spokespeople to build trust; most effective is “a person like me” (38 percent) or an expert (35 percent), not a celebrity (13 percent). Fourth, in a skeptical world, persuasion is achieved through repetition; only 35 percent trust a brand message after a single exposure to it, rising to 97 percent after seven exposures.
Brands that build trust earn big rewards in purchasing, loyalty, advocacy, defense and communications. When a brand is trusted, buying accelerates (53 percent versus 25 percent). More than twice as many respondents said that they would be loyal to a brand they trust versus one they do not in the face of a competitive launch (62 percent versus 29 percent). More than twice as many will advocate for you (51 percent versus 24 percent) and nearly twice as many will defend you (43 percent versus 22 percent). When they trust, people will also pay more attention to advertising (76 percent versus 48 percent).
It’s time for brands to take the next giant step. They must accept the responsibility conferred by consumers, welcoming greater accountability and measurement of their impact. They should take the risk of bold societal commitments, staying within their areas of core competence; this makes them worthy of relevance. When 61 percent of respondents say their trust in a brand is fueled by how much the brand acts on their personal beliefs, brands must move from making an impression to making a difference.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.