Trusting Brands in an Era of Mistrust
The economic crisis that began in 2008 with subprime mortgages and the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy led to a significant alteration in society’s values.
The sudden change from a situation of comfort to one of crisis led to millions of people losing their jobs. People’s expectations changed and there was growing uncertainty as regards the future. Politicians’ inability to act led to people no longer trusting traditional political parties.
Moreover, citizens found in social networks mechanisms that enabled them to get involved (e.g. with change.org) in the search for possible solutions in the struggle to improve their future (employment, housing, climate change, poverty, inequality and food waste, among other issues).
The availability of an infinite amount of information online has led to higher expectations in terms of the information that reaches us by way of conventional media sources, and has generated a certain mistrust as regards their role as a communications channel. Faced with the credibility of traditional media outlets (TV, press, etc.), social networks have meant that consumers now place their trust in their peers, in other people who are just like them. People no longer trust what the traditional press has to say, perhaps influenced by those in power, and give more credibility to others who share their interests. Today, influencers are the new trusted voices. The power lies with websites which provide reviews & ratings, and not with restaurant and hotel critics. What’s more, at 3 o’clock in the morning it’s a lot easier and quicker for people to search online for information regarding their baby’s colic than it is to call a paediatrician.
People are demanding more from brands as well. The online consumer informs themselves before buying. They don’t believe everything the brand tells them and they check reviews from other users before making their decision. Alternatively, they shout their complaints from the rooftops now that they can broadcast their opinions so easily online. The consumer has taken the power.
And we’ve moved from a time when brands spoke to the consumer via traditional communication channels to another one which is dominated by interactivity. The consumer speaks to brands. What’s more, it DEMANDS things from them. It demands that they solve problems. And not just problems relating to use. It wants them to act to help create a better world. To take care of the planet, to fight for causes. The consumer will support brands which support the same causes as them, such as gender equality or respect for animals. It is only these brands that the consumer will trust in the future.
The brand came into being as a way of providing a sense of security and trust when buying a product. This trust has been key to establishing lasting relationships and repeat purchases, to minimising risk when spending money on an item or service.
However, we now live in a time where it is more common “to not buy”. To not buy a car, but to use a transport service instead. To not buy a CD or a movie, but to have a subscription to a streaming platform. Is consumer loyalty as valuable as it used to be? And consequently, do brands have to invest in loyalty programmes in the same way?
In fact, the efforts that brands are making to gain the trust of 21st-century consumers make it seem like they will have to devote themselves more to “connection programmes”. Therefore, in addition to working on their positioning, brands will have to take a position regarding consumers’ issues. Instead of talking about themselves, they’ll have to talk about people’s concerns and to take sides. The case of Nike and their campaign with Colin Kaepernick has become the best example of this. Nike took a risk that day, and some people burned their shoes. Just like Gillette did when they put the issue of toxic masculinity on the table. But today these brands are more alive, they’re stronger and better connected to people’s hearts when compared to just a few months ago.
Now the battle isn’t about winning over a portfolio, but winning over people’s hearts. In an age of Big Data, it won’t be the cold numbers which are important but rather the warm connections that people make with the souls of brands.