Only a third of consumers (34 percent) trust most of the brands they buy or use, reveals a new Trust Barometer Special Report from comms giant Edelman. The study, In Brands We Trust?, prepared for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, reveals that brand trust (81 percent) is a deal breaker or a deciding factor when they’re considering a purchase, trailing only quality (85 percent), convenience (84 percent), value (84 percent) and ingredients (82 percent).

Trust is a strong purchase consideration for the vast majority of respondents across geographies, age groups, gender and income levels

Trust is becoming more important to consumers because of their growing concerns about product experience (62 percent), including the fast pace of innovation and their increasing reliance on brands for automation; customer experience (55 percent), including brands’ collecting consumers’ personal data and tracking and targeting them; and brands’ impact on society (69 percent), including consumers’ expectation that brands will help express their values.

“Trust has always played an important role in brand purchase,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, in a news release. “But consumers now have much larger expectations of brands, and their trust is predicated on how well a brand can pass through the three gates of trust—product, customer experience and impact on society.”

When brands build trust, consumers reward them

Consumers who trust a brand are more than twice as likely to be the first to buy the brand’s new products (53 percent versus 25 percent). They are more than twice as likely to stay loyal to a brand they trust, even in the face of disruption, such as a trendy or innovative competitor (62 percent versus 29 percent). They are more than twice as likely to advocate for a brand they trust (51 percent versus 24 percent), and almost twice as likely to defend it when things go wrong (43 percent versus 22 percent). And when a brand is trusted on product, customer service and societal impact, the percentage of consumers who will buy first, stay loyal to, advocate for and defend it (68 percent) is 21 points higher than consumers who buy on product trust only (47 percent).

Despite this importance, brands are currently failing the trust test

A majority of respondents believe every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business (53 percent), yet fewer than one in four (21 percent) claim to 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. And consumers have lost faith in brands and their ability to ignite social change: 41 percent, down five points from last year, believe brands have better ideas for solving a country’s problems than government; 49 percent, down four points from last year, say brands can do more to solve social ills than government; and 48 percent, down six points from last year, feel it’s easier for people to get brands to address social problems than to get government to take action.

“Consumers are wary that brands are ‘trustwashing’ and being less than truthful about their commitment to society,” said Amanda Glasgow, global chair of Brand at Edelman, in the release. “Talking about an issue in an ad isn’t enough. Brands need to go further to impact real change. This could be anything from advocacy to financial support to internal reforms.”

Brands can build trust by communicating with consumers through various platforms and voices—not with advertising alone

While nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents say they find ways to avoid advertising, our supplemental online influencer study found that a majority of consumers age 18-34 (63 percent) are more trusting of influencers than a brand’s advertising. Repetition and specific sequencing of the brand message are also key. Eighty-seven percent of respondents have strong trust in a brand message after seeing it across six different channels, compared to 13 percent who have strong trust in a message after just one viewing. The most effective channel sequence for building trust in a message among people who are not customers of the brand begins with peer conversation, amplified by owned (74 percent).

“It’s time for brands to take the next giant step,” said Edelman. “They must accept the responsibility consumers have given them to effect change and welcome greater accountability and measurement of their impact.”

For this research, the firm surveyed 16,000 people in eight countries.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders.

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