New report examines brands consumers believe possess verified “trust”

by | Feb 4, 2019 | Public Relations

Growing concerns regarding privacy and data security have reached a tipping point, driven by an astonishing increase in consumers’ expectations for trust and transparency in the brands they purchase, according to the 24th annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI) from brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy Brand Keys.

Biggest shift in expectations for trust—ever

“Trust—an engagement factor in every product/service category—has become the indispensable connective tissue between brands and customer loyalty,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, in a news release. “Consumer expectations for that single value have increased across every category and brand we track, on average by 250+ percent since 2018. Consumer expectations increase each year—usually in the 2-25 percent range. This is an unprecedented spike.”

Where “trust” matters most in broadcast and entertainment

Individual attributes, benefits, and brand values make specific contributions to consumer brand engagement and loyalty. In 2019, consumer expectations regarding the Broadcast and Entertainment sector “trust” increased as follows:

  • Evening News (Broadcast): 215 percent
  • Morning News (Broadcast): 210 percent
  • Evening News (Cable): 200 percent
  • Morning News (Cable): 195 percent
  • Ticketing Services: 100 percent
  • Major League Sports 82 percent
  • Online Music 50 percent
  • Major League Video Gaming 20 percent
  • Flat Screen TV 16 percent
  • Streaming Video 15 percent

“When it comes to the media, ‘trust’ is something that viewers seem to know when they feel it, and then act upon it,” said Passikoff. “Pretty much the definition of how consumers react to an emotional value, and more so in these times of political tribalism and social activism.”

This year, the CLEI examined 90 categories and 822 individual brands. Virtually all showed significant increases in consumer expectations for the value of “trust,” some brands significantly more than others.

Consumers still shop, but they’re not stupid

“It isn’t just Facebook’s, Google’s, Twitter’s and other social networks’ failures to address privacy, security, and transparency that are responsible, although making significant contributions to the paradigm shift. Charges of hacking—foreign and domestic—and misuse of data have raised consumers’ emotional hackles,” said Passikoff.

“Data breeches in the past year alone—along with failure to disclose – by brands like Macy’s, Saks, Adidas, Panera, Delta, Under Armour, and Orbitz, have significantly increased the gap between what consumers expect and what brands deliver. There’s a new brand ‘yardstick’ for every category,” he added. “Consumers may still shop, but they’re increasingly wary.”

Categories that dodged “trust” expectations bullets

“A few categories managed to dodge the ‘trust-bullet’ this year,” said Passikoff. “Trust hasn’t disappeared from the engagement and path-to-purchase process, and expectations always increase Y-O-Y, they just haven’t escalated in their contribution to loyalty the way it has in the other categories.”

The five categories with the lowest increases in consumer expectations for “trust” included:

  • Printers (2 percent)
  • Parcel Delivery (2 percent)
  • Lip Balm (2 percent)
  • Economy Hotels (3 percent)
  • Gasoline (3 percent)

“Trust” = engagement = loyalty = brand profitability

“’Brand engagement’ is best defined by how well a brand meets consumers’ expectations for values that drive purchase behavior,” added Passikoff. “Consumers have an Ideal image for every product and service; it’s how they measure brands. In recent years, a more emotionally-based process has created a more value-infused, complicated path-to-purchase as it regards ‘trust.’ If marketers think they know consumers’ trust levels for their brands, this year they need to take another look preferably using methods more precise than traditional brand tracking.”

See a complete list of the CLEI’s 90 categories here.

Consumers verify first, then trust

Decision-making has become more emotionally-driven over the past decade,” said Passikoff. “But the addition of increased desire for trust and transparency have changed category landscapes. ‘Business as usual,’ ‘Research as usual,’ won’t cut it in today’s brandscape. Based on the 2019 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index findings, consumers’ behavioral maxim is ‘verify first, then trust.’”

The result? Massive changes in what consumers want and equally massive gaps between what they want and what brands are delivering. “Real engagement metrics keep brands on the path to profitability,” Passikoff said. “Building brand trust isn’t a matter of technique or more social networking, but the development of actual, believable brand character and values.”

For the 2019 CLEI survey, 51,673 consumers, 16 to 65 years of age from the nine US Census Regions, self-selected the categories in which they are consumers and the brands for which they are customers. Forty-five percent were interviewed by phone, 45 percent via face-to-face interviews (cell phone-only households), and 10 percent were interviewed online.

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 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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