Trust and Brands: The Collapse of the Purchase Funnel
Today’s buying behavior is too dynamic for the linear funnel.
Purchase is no longer the end point, but the starting point, for an ongoing relationship between consumers and brands.
When brands act, consumers respond – so brands need to live up to expectations.
All MBAs are aware of the marketing purchase funnel — where the consumer is moved from awareness to interest to preference to purchase. Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer Special Report, The Collapse of the Purchase Funnel, finds that today’s buying behavior is too dynamic for a linear funnel and that purchase is no longer the end point but the start of an ongoing relationship with the consumer. Our report, to be released today at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, introduces a replacement for the Purchase Funnel — the Trust Loop, in which trust drives growth and action earns trust. The data was collected in early May from nearly 14,000 consumers in 14 countries: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, UAE, the U.K., and the U.S. Our study finds these insights apply across geographies and generations. What we’ve discovered is a radical change in consumer behavior, and one that marketing professionals need to adjust to accordingly.
Why is the funnel dead? Instead of following a linear path that ends with purchase, buying is just one part of an ongoing virtuous cycle. Consumers are demanding ongoing engagement with brands; 79% of consumers directly interact with brands beyond using their product or service, through engagements such as connecting on social media, sharing feedback and participation in brand activities. The journey of brand discovery starts for many consumers after the first purchase; 78% uncover things that attract them and make them loyal to a brand after the initial sale. Consumers who engage in these direct brand interactions say they help establish that brands deliver on core elements of trust, from competence (70%) to ethical behavior (60%) and relevance (59%). Hence the Trust Loop: The point of sale is a point of departure for an ongoing journey, with trust as the guide.
Trust is the third Musketeer in the consideration set for brand purchase (88% say it’s an important consideration), just behind value for money (91%) and quality (89%), ahead of such factors as convenience and reputation. The rewards for trust are tangible, in both purchase and advocacy. When consumers trust a brand, 59% say they are more likely to buy the brand’s new products and/or buy the brand even if not as cheap as a competitor. With trust, two thirds of consumers say they are more likely to stay loyal, stick with the brand even if it makes a mistake and/or recommend the brand to others.
Instead of following a linear path that ends with purchase, buying is just one part of an ongoing virtuous cycle.
Brands are rewarded by consumers for acting because they are overwhelmed by the complexities of the present day. Our study finds the consumer beset by significant concerns, worried about climate change (70%) to inflation (67%) to global conflict (67%) to personal health (64%) to polarization (59%), misinformation (58%) and loss of rights and freedoms (58%). That very vulnerable consumer has a growing dependence on brands to answer the call, with 71% of respondents saying that it is more important to trust brands they buy today than in the past. Consumers are five times more likely to buy brands that commit to addressing climate change, and at least four times more likely to buy if brands commit to ending racism and promoting gender equality.
Gen Z is a critical driver of the Trust Loop, with the most power to influence buying behavior of other age groups. Seventy-nine percent of Gen Z respondents say it is more important to trust brands they buy today than in the past, up eight points since 2021. A full 64% of Gen Z say brands should make their values more visible at the point of purchase, underlying how beliefs drive buying. Brands must prove their values to Gen Z, with almost two thirds (62%) of 18-26-year-olds saying that if the brand doesn’t communicate its actions to address societal issues, they assume it must be hiding something or is doing nothing. Gen Z has raised expectations for brand behavior, with at least 6 in 10 respondents saying high school or college-aged people have influenced how they think about a brand’s environmental friendliness as well as the diversity in its advertising and workforce. Gen Z is also conscious of manipulation, citing that a brand’s attempts at engagement often go wrong because they lack relevance (78%) or lack authenticity (56%).
Crucially, marketers need to train themselves to distinguish between transient politics and sincere purpose. The former is to be avoided, the latter powerful and needed. And when brands act, consumers respond. Consumers feel vulnerable. World events are volatile. We need a new outlook to meet this reality —shifting from a linear, stepwise, one-sided process to always on, relationship-oriented engagement. It drives not only purchase, but advocacy. Brands are more important than ever in our lives, and they need to live up to that expectation.