How to achieve brand trust in a post-truth world – full of sceptical consumers

Like politicians and the mainstream media, brands are becoming increasingly distrusted by their consumers. Openness and honesty have never been more critical, writes Mintel's Richard Cope

Faithlessness has never been so fashionable. The Oxford Dictionary made ‘post-truth’ its word of the year in 2016 and the Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust dropped across all four institutions of government, businesses, nonprofit organisations and the media in its latest study.

Then there was the emergence of Veles, Macedonia, as the ‘world capital of fake news’ – the registered home of over a 100 pro-Trump sites, earning its propagators thousands of dollars in automated advertising revenues. Following this, the UK’s Channel 4 news revealed that 96 per cent of viewers can no longer distinguish between real and fake headlines.

And now, consumer-facing brands are becoming exposed—and distrusted—in exactly the same way. One headline-hogging example was the revelation that Louis Vuitton’s ‘Made in Italy’ shoes are actually made in a secret factory in Transylvania, Romania.

Not what they seem… Louis Vuitton

The toxicity of this has contributed to a scenario, where, according to Mintel’s latest research, just 53 per cent of UK consumers and 27 per cent of Italians trust the food and drink industry to ensure food and drink is safe for consumption. In the UK, the figure plummets to 39 per cent of beauty and personal care consumers. So, how can consumer trust be won?

Seeing is believing

In a culture defined by digital visuals, it’s unsurprising that younger consumers trust their eyes foremost. According to our research, 59 per cent of 10-to-15 year old UK girls choose a beauty product because they ‘like the look of it’. However, because this generation is attuned to—and a practiced user of—digital fakery; their response to ‘not liking brands who use airbrushing in photos’ is even higher at 62 per cent.

Meanwhile, some 51 per cent of Chinese consumers aged 20-to-49 say that a ‘high quality product’ has a transparent production process. This is part of a wider trend that extends beyond the fact that over 2,000 Shanghai restaurants have installed see-through kitchens so far in 2017.

Brands are asserting visual authenticity to win trust, embodied by OCBC Bank Singapore’s earlier Facebook Live broadcast, as part of its ‘Stay True’ campaign. which saw the bank’s head of consumer financial services being strapped to a lie detector while being made to answer questions during a live stream.

Meanwhile, a number of spirit brands such as Diageo have started using virtual reality to immerse us in reassuring the behind-the-scenes authenticity and purity of their manufacturing processes. The UK grocer Waitrose strapped a ‘cow cam’ to its dairy livestock to live-stream it roaming free.

Going the extra mile – Waitrose strapped GoPros to its cows to prove their quality of life is good

Another way to win trust is through visual simplicity when it comes to labelling, with 75 per cent of Thais saying that ‘food and drink companies should make it easier to understand how much sugar is in their products’.

The biggest visual trend of recent times has been the emergence of live-streaming apps as a source of compellingly grassroots, amateur authenticity; 61 per cent of Chinese consumers aged 20-to-49 tell us that they have watched advertising on video streaming websites.

A desire for authenticity and trust is driving brands to embrace live-streaming concepts in their campaigns. Maybelline, for instance conducted a two-hour live-stream on video app MeiPai with Chinese actress AngelaBaby in which it sold 10,000 lipsticks.

It may sound patronising to assert that the intrinsic appeal of trusted brands is their convenience in fast-tracking our decisions, but in an age of expanded opportunities, where we face a ‘tyranny of choice’, this should not be underestimated.

Being the trusted brand of choice pays dividends. We live in times of unprecedented choice when it comes to entertainment, but the figures suggest that this is a wealth of options we could do without. In 2016, there were 8.7 million different songs sold as digital copies in US—more than double the amount sold in 2011—but the number of songs that sold more than 100 copies remained the same at 350,000. Consumers need trusted brands more than ever to shortcut the overload of choice.

By using the same communication channels as those used by their friends, consumers are afforded the opportunity to be honest, fallible and apologetic in this sceptical era of advertising.

Richard Cope is international trends consultant at Mintel – he will be presenting a session on ‘The Truth about Trust’ at the Mumbrella360 Asia conference in November (7-9) at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore


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