Trust in brands is down and expectations of social responsibility from brands is up among consumers, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, a global study set to be released in Cannes on Tuesday and produced by Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm.
The study compiled data from more than 25,000 respondents across eight major global markets including the United States, Brazil, China and Germany, with various surveys being conducted both online and via mobile in April and May. In advance of the study’s release, Ad Age spoke with Richard Edelman, the president and CEO of the company, who offered additional insights about the findings.
Here’s your executive summary of five key takeaways from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report:
Trust is almost as important to consumers as quality and value
Consumers ranked brand trust as one of the top factors they consider when making a purchase, with 81 percent of survey respondents saying that they “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.”
Of the 11 buying considerations consumers were asked to rank in order of importance, brand trust came in fifth place, outpacing good reviews (77 percent), corporate reputation (73 percent) and a brand’s environmental impact (71 percent). Leading the field was product quality at 85 percent, followed by convenience and value, both with 84 percent, and ingredients with 82 percent.
A majority of consumers also reported that they would prefer to purchase from a familiar, trusted brand overall; 66 percent of people surveyed would rather stick with their brand of choice than a competitor that is more innovative or technologically advanced, while 75 percent said they’d value trust more than trendiness.
“Trust really matters for brands now,” Richard Edelman tells Ad Age, summing up his firm’s findings. “I think it’s a completely new moment for brands where it’s not enough for brands to communicate. You actually have to make a difference.”
Most people distrust a portion of the brands they buy
On average, just 34 percent of consumers say they trust most of the brands they buy and use; in some markets, like France and Germany, that figure is less than 25 percent. More than half of consumers (53 percent) also report that they’re able to spot “trust-washing”—a term used in the Edelman Trust Barometer report to describe when companies are less than truthful with the public.
It’s also difficult for brands to regain trust after consumer confidence has been weakened. After a brand displays unethical behavior or suffers a controversy, 45 percent of consumers said that brand would never be able to regain their trust while 40 percent said they would stop buying from that brand altogether.
“Eighty-one percent say, ‘Trust in brands is an important part of my purchase behavior,’ but only one-third of people say they trust the brands that they buy,” says Richard Edelman. “So, that’s an incredible opportunity for brands.”
The report also shows fewer people are trusting advertising, with 41 percent of consumers saying they don’t trust brands’ marketing communications to be accurate and truthful. Nearly three-fourths of consumers also reported that they try to avoid advertising altogether: 48 percent of those surveyed reported using ad-blocking technology and 47 percent changed their media habits to see fewer ads.
Relatability beats popularity when it comes to influencers
According to the Edelman report, 63 percent of consumers trust influencers’ opinions of products “much more” than what brands say about themselves, and 58 percent of people have bought a new product in the past six months because of an influencer’s recommendation.
Consumers also said that relatability was twice as important than popularity when it comes to product endorsements—in other words, influencers who consumers see as their peers are preferred to well-known celebrities as any given brand’s pitchman.
However, as a relatively new form of marketing, the deployment of influencers by big-name brands is a world of unknowns. From influencers misleading companies by faking social engagement to subverting Federal Trade Commission regulations by failing to disclose the paid nature of an endorsement, companies need to be hyper-aware when deciding to use influencers big and small.
“Influencers matter,” Richard Edelman tells Ad Age. “They’re credible.” He adds that brands should particularly seek out influencers with hard-won credibility. “Pay attention here: It’s not purchased influence, it’s earned influence.”
Brands having a social impact is important to consumers
Fifty-three percent of consumers expect brands to get involved in at least one social issue that is not directly related to their business, though companies are often perceived as falling short: 56 percent of people say brands overuse social issues as marketing ploys and just 21 percent say they know from personal experience that their chosen brands keep the best interests of society in mind.
“My purchase of products each week makes more of a difference than my vote every four years in the broader debate on issues such as tolerance, environment and education,” Richard Edelman writes in “The Next Giant Step,” an essay he wrote to accompany the release of the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. “I want brands to stand with me.”
According to the report, doing right by society can also boost sales. While 47 percent of consumers are able to trust a brand for its products alone, 55 percent report trusting a brand when it offers both a valuable product and treats its customers well. When positively impacting society is factored into the trust equation, the number of consumers inclined to side with a specific brand jumps to 68 percent.
People are losing faith in brands’ change-making abilities
While consumers now expect brands to have a societal impact, their confidence in corporate-led social change is down significantly from last year.
Forty-nine percent of surveyed consumers said brands can do more to cure social issues than the government can; 41 percent said brands have better ideas to solve the country’s problems than the government; and 48 percent said it’s easier to get brands to take social action than the government. These numbers are down four, five and six percentage points, respectively, from the previous year.
Brands, Richard Edelman tells Ad Age, “have to be the normal; the adults in the room.” He calls this decline in confidence a “new moment” that brands should be taking advantage of in revamping their approach to building trust with consumers.
“It’s now not just a job people are doing in marketing,” he adds, “it’s a vital part of society.”