Brand Trust: Optimism or Cynicism Ahead in 2022?

Brand Trust: Optimism or Cynicism Ahead in 2022?

brand trust

In 2021, brand trust became even more of an it factor, the new currency if you will, for many brands looking to emerge from the pandemic. As 2022 approaches, all signs point to brand trust remaining essential to relevancy. But 2021 gave us conflicting takes on brand trust. One group of global brand trust researchers at Havas declared in its Meaningful Brands Report 2021 that we are in the ‘Age of Cynicism.’ But another group of researchers at Edelman countered in its 2021 Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust, The New Brand Equity that the ‘Age of Trust’ is upon us. So which is it? Or are we somewhere in between? And more importantly, how can brands best navigate this?

We decided to come at this from a “point – counterpoint” approach in a conversation with some brand and CX experts. Do we have to choose sides or is there actually some “gray space” in the middle where brand trust likely exists?

The State of Brands

Age of Trust

Businesses are trusted more than NGOs, government, media¹

Age of Cynicism

People wouldn’t care if 75% of brands disappeared²

(12th consecutive year of decline & 39% of brands are seen as trustworthy in N. America)

These statistics would seem to tell two different stories, but both can co-exist.

Regardless of which lens brands view this through, this dichotomy appears to be a reflection of the overall growing polarization of society. That makes it even more important (and difficult) for brands to know what they want to stand for.

“We have to understand that there is a lot of gray and there’s a lot of beauty in that,” according to Dan Gingiss, CX expert and author of The Experience Maker. “I think that there is a genuine cynicism for both government and media. And therefore, you look around and say ‘Okay, well who can we trust? Where do we go next?’ I think companies are a pretty good place to go because there are so many brands out there that people just love and they want to love, and they want to believe in. Companies have this great opportunity to be that trusted source for customers. The ones that really focus on that can be the ones that stand out.”

Brand evangelist, Lori Renzi, who has worked with companies like P&G, Kraft, and PepsiCo, suggests that customers don’t just want brand trust, they need it. “Consumers need brands they can trust because they’re losing control in other areas – economic (unemployment, inflation), political (corrupt leaders), health (pandemic) – they don’t have the mental bandwidth to study brands, too. It’s exhausting,” Renzi explains.

What Customers Say They Want

Age of Trust

Age of Cynicism

Age of Trust

86%

expect brands to act beyond their product & purpose¹

68%

say “CEOs should step in when government does not fix societal problems.”¹

Age of Cynicism

36%

feel satisfied with concrete actions by brands to make the world a better place²

34%

think companies & brands are transparent about their commitments and promises²

86%

expect brands to act beyond their product & purpose¹

68%

say “CEOs should step in when government does not fix societal problems.”¹

36%

feel satisfied with concrete actions by brands to make the world a better place²

34%

think companies & brands are transparent about their commitments and promises²

We realize brands are in a tricky place right now. They must strategically decide what makes the most sense for the position they want to have in the market. While there may be additional factors influencing trust, the most fundamental factors are the actual experiences and services provided to customers and the way a brand makes them feel.

Renzi concurs with that. She says, “The WE focus (collective) is becoming more important and culturally relevant because we have seen firsthand, in a very real way with COVID and climate change, how we are all so interconnected. But brands can’t take their eyes off the ME needs first (useful, quality product/service), or it won’t matter in the long run. I’ve done a lot of work in change management — humans worry about themselves first, then their immediate families, then their personal network, then acquaintances, communities, and further out from there.”

“One of my clients said it well. ‘A brand’s value is no longer just defined by the quality of its product, but by the quality of its character.’”

~Lori Renzi, Founder/Consultant with brandevangelist60643

Gingiss leans into the consumer viewpoint by coming at it with a focus on relationships and experiences. He says that is the foundation upon which growing brand trust is built. He emphasizes that, “Today, with social media, we can have daily interactions with brands if we want, and we expect them to talk back to us. When we create positive experiences for people, we create this desire to share.”

But he says what people don’t share is the ordinary experiences. And that’s something to keep in mind as brands look to take on bigger issues.

“When you take a position on any social issue, yes, you’re going to have customers that agree with you, and customers that don’t agree with you. So the question is, what’s that worth to you?” Gingiss points out.

Certainly younger generations want you to take a side on a social issue. But companies also realize that it takes all kinds to fill a customer base, right? Our customer bases are diverse in every way you can define diverse and we want to be as inclusive as possible. Otherwise, those customers are going to go find somebody else.

~Dan Gingiss, Author, Speaker & CX Coach

Age of Trust

%

stopped buying a brand they love because they do not trust the corporate owner¹

Age of Cynicism

%

of respondents prefer to buy from companies with a reputation for having a purpose other than just profits²

Money and profits cannot be ignored as a factor in the brand trust equation. But with the evolution of trust, how do brands make sure they are measuring and delivering on all aspects of it, especially as expectations shift and grow? Yes, it used to be more simple. But brands with staying power have known all along that it’s never just been about the money. More than ever, consumers hold the power of the purse as the ability to switch brands has become increasingly effortless. Just like we can “follow the money,” now we can also “follow the switching.”

“Switching costs are really low,” according to Gingiss. “Given that, people are valuing their experience a lot more than they did before. And this element of trust plays to the fact that customers want a relationship with brands. Think about the relationships that you have in your life with other friends and family. They’re built on trust. And so it’s not surprising that consumers want to trust in the brands they spend money with.”

WATCH VIDEO: Dan Gingiss speaks with The DRG about his 2022 brand trust predictions

Renzi acknowledges the intersection between trust and profits can be difficult for brands to navigate. “This is where skepticism can get in the way for brands, as they are always going to be worried about making money. Companies can’t always help themselves from monetizing their behavior,” she says.

“Can companies put purpose over profits, at least some of the time? To create trust? Sometimes regulation and self-regulation need to come before altruism, and those also impact the bottom line. It would behoove companies to ‘do the right thing’ on their own, as authentically and true-to-brand as possible,” Renzi suggests.

Gen Z

Age of Trust – Gen Z

53%

of Gen Z says brands in general come across as authentic³

61%

for millennials³

Age of Cynicism – Gen Z

55%

of Gen Z respondents “are looking for differentiated products and services which allow them to express their individuality.”²

36%

of Boomers seek that²

You can’t come at brand trust these days without checking in on Gen Z. Salesforce zeroed in on generational trust differences in a piece on Millennials vs. Gen Z: How Are They Different?

It reinforces that the needs of Gen Z are different from other generations and brand trust is no exception. We’ve long heard about how important authenticity is to this group and that they are likely to do more business with brands they feel good about. Gen Z is looking for brands that value their opinion and display purpose, diversity, authenticity, transparency, social responsibility, and data security.

What Gen Z Looks for From Brands

Diversity

Authenticity

Transparency

Social Responsibility

Data Security

Value of Their Opinion

Purpose

Gingiss agrees that Gen Z is teaching brands that they cannot do business with a one-size-fits-all approach. “Customers today, especially younger customers, are looking to be treated like individuals. No longer is it okay to treat somebody as an account number or a frequent flyer number. They want to be treated like people. And the thing is, we talk a lot about personalization, but so many companies just mail it in,” Gingiss says.

Renzi suggests that brands need to be more proactive when it comes to their constituencies, including Gen Z. “Don’t just listen to consumers about what they want, pay attention to what is impacting their lives and the lives of those around them, and understand how your brand’s mission – not your brand’s functionality – can add meaning,” she adds.

These are ways to help build the authenticity that Gen Z craves when it comes to brand trust. It doesn’t have to happen overnight or be an “all or nothing” approach. Even incremental progress is still progress.

Brand Trust – What to Do About It?

Optimism vs. Cynicism

Trust has many layers and customers may trust brands in some areas, but not others. The key is to figure out which aspects of trust matter most to your customers and ensure you are delivering on those. It’s about finding the right balance. If you’re going to speak up, do so in a way that’s in line with what you do or what you offer to the world (and that won’t alienate customers.) Make sure you are already trusted in the more foundational ways first. For example, we expect a grocery store to provide high quality produce, a bank to securely hold money and allow us to easily transact. If the basics aren’t working, start there first.

Renzi also emphasizes the need for brands seeking trust to always stay focused on what is at the heart of their business. “Consistency is the number one thing that will build trust – just ask your parents,” Renzi says. As for leveraging brand trust to facilitate change, Renzi believes that “it is consumers who will give companies the permission to play that role, and in return will reward them with loyalty and engagement.”

“It doesn’t mean you can’t stand for something, and you should stand for something,” Gingiss advises. “But you have to appreciate the fact that your customer base is filled with a whole bunch of different people that want different things, that are different personalities, that are different backgrounds, and have different views on society.”

So as we move into 2022 and beyond, what is as true now as in years past, is that we don’t have to pick a side on brand trust. Nor should we. It doesn’t have to be optimism versus cynicism. It’s not a black and white narrative. It’s okay to live in the “gray.” What is a certainty is that brand trust is increasingly precious collateral, becoming more valuable to more consumers over time. And playing more of a role in a company’s future over the long haul. The stakes have never been higher in how a brand leverages that trust. We have no reason to believe that trend will change in 2022. Brand trust cannot be ignored. There is power (and opportunity) in that. Optimizing brand trust is proving critical for brands to not just survive, but to thrive and keep thriving.

Resources:
1. Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust, The New Brand Equity
2. Havas’ Meaningful Brands Report 2021
3. Salesforce’s Millennials vs. Gen Z: How Are They Different?

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