The pandemic has affected people.
It has also affected how people trust.

People walking in a corridor, all wearing PPE masks

As society reels from the upending effects of the coronavirus pandemic, we are being conditioned to be more cautious and wary. Is our collective inclination to trust being affected? Might people’s attitudes and confidence towards the brands and companies they know change as a knock-on effect from pandemic-induced wariness?

HISTORICAL/ANTHROPOLOGICAL CONTEXT

COVID-19 is unprecedented. But trust has many precedents.

Historically, when the status quo shifted, the public’s trust levels in ‘the establishment’ shifted as well. The bigger the shock, the greater the ripple effect on trust levels.

A diverse range of impacts have affected public trust levels in the past.

  1. Hard times that the government cannot easily resolve (war, civil unrest)
  2. Corporations that cut corners thereby affecting public safety (mass product recalls, corporate cheating)
  3. Generational divides over problems left for later generations to inherit (equal rights to the environment)
  4. Conflicting stories and mixed messages gaslighting the public (public trust in the media recently hit an all-time low as people have become wary of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternate facts’).
History would suggest it isn’t a question of whether or not people’s ability to place trust will shift, but rather how it might shift, and to what degree.

SOCIAL LISTENING

People are in a reassessment mode.

One way to monitor people’s ability to place trust in institutions, companies, officials and social connections is to listen in on what they are saying. Analysing ongoing social media chatter, and the sentiment that underpins that chatter, can reveal how they are feeling towards the world around them.

woman looking at her phone in the dark
As normalcy was thrown into upheaval, social media sentiment metrics demonstrate that people went into a shock-driven ‘assessment mode’.

Social media conversations peaked in mid-March and unsurprisingly negative sentiment was high through that month.

In a heightened state of alarm, social media conversations levelled-off in April and the thinking face emoji features in April 2020’s top 10 as people began to reassess and recalibrate.

The tenor of social media conversations through the first two months of the pandemic would suggest that following the initial shock, people are now actively questioning and trying to assess what is going on. Who people trust, or don’t, appears to be something that is equally being tested and re-evaluated.

OPINION TRACKING

TRUST BY NUMBERS

People appear to be placing trust in the groups they feel are working hard, with the purest of intention, to benefit the broader community despite the adversity they face.

People are placing the most trust with scientists and small business; the two groups they see as working hard to overcome adversity, and doing so without ulterior motives. “Big business” lags most other groups by a significant margin.

With the public having been shocked out of their comfort zone, all bets were suddenly swept off that table, and people appear to be questioning the motives of people and institutions in positions of power. Early indicators would suggest corporations should take heed, and pay extra attention to their customer relationship, brand equity and corporate reputation efforts.

CMO PERSPECTIVE

The imperative of trust is hitting home for brands.

Are marketing leaders thinking about how public trust may be shifting for their brands, and just how well attuned are they to the public’s reassessment mindset? Many CMOs recognize that trust is critical for their brands and businesses, and are coming around to the fact that the pandemic could jeopardize the stability of their customers’ trust. CMOs interviewed for this study outlined three key principles to help maintain their customers’ trust into the recovery period and beyond.

Principle 1: The need for tangible demonstration.

“We need to demonstrate we have our customers’ backs at all times.”
“Number one focus: if we lose trust, we will lose business.”
“People first, profits second: deferred payments, discount prices, will show your brand is trying.”

Principle 2: The importance of genuine transparency.

“We will need to continuously keep our customers informed.”
“It will be important to show and state that employees and products are disease-free.”
“Brands can play an important role in helping inform and guide customers.”

Principle 3: Communications can’t be tone deaf or naïve, and must connect to the core of the brand.

“Consumers will have zero tolerance for insincere or fluffy ad campaigns.”
“We must help provide the normalcy people want by being true to our DNA.”
“If our trust was endangered, brand marketing would be our measure.”

Trust, according to the CMOs, will be built through actions more than with words.

Communications are a means to an end, not an end unto itself, and should be used to broadcast what companies, via their brands, are doing to be part of the solution for their customers’ needs, and towards the greater public good.

TAKING ACTION

MARKETING
IMPLICATIONS

Marketers should be working to assess whether their most profitable segments are still true believers, or are now at play. Trust remains the keystone of customer loyalty and if it falters, consumers will take flight to other options.

Brands that do right by their customers and build their levels of advocacy will win.

We have already witnessed the power of peer-to-peer reviews, and this will be amplified if corporate trust remains stalled and people seek the counsel of others regarding which brands to now trust for trial, and who to set aside.

Time-tested techniques that have been proven to stabilize wavering consumer trust include enhancements to product warranty, and service guarantees. Fast-forwarding to today’s new normal, having a full and transparent commitment to safe, assured and close-to-normal customer experiences will further demonstrate tangible commitment to customer needs and expectations.

When a brand is able to lower any perceived risks, consumers will become more grounded and less apt to feel they have to maintain a relationship on blind faith. This applies in the clicks realm as much as it does in the bricks realm.

PRINCIPLES TO CONSIDER

Trust = Consideration

Brands must generate trust in safety, that the company behind the brand is not opportunistically motivated, that it isn’t taking shortcuts, and it is committed to the greater good and part of the solution. Having a strong, trusted reputation will stimulate trial and grow likelihood of adoption.

Ensure trust is sticky for the long-term

People will gravitate to the brands they can repeatedly trust, regardless of how unsafe the world becomes. Institute a continuous human-focused effort, and avoid one-and-done quick fixes.

Reconsider ‘commercial’ moments

Putting people first during insecure times means giving them affordable access to the products and services they truly need. Everyday value pricing will be welcomed whereas a short-term salesy event may appear opportunistic and not representative of a real customer commitment.

Trust comes from delivery, not boasting

Trust isn’t something to be bartered or sold — trust is earned with every customer interaction. Find ways that demonstrate real commitment, remaining on-brand but stepping beyond core services if need be. Automotive plants creating masks, and spirit alcohol companies making hand sanitizers serve as inspiration to others in the near term; consider how a brand can continue to do right by its customers through the months to come.

COVID-19 is changing consumers. Are you changing with them?

To explore and apply further insights about post-Pandemic consumers for your sector, business, or brand, please contact:

Suresh Raj
hello@v7international.com

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Dig Into Deeper Perspectives

Our global network has pulled together additional perspectives that help shine more light on the data analysis and trends we’re tracking along the recovery from the pandemic.

  • Analysis and points of view from Interviews with international CMOs.
  • Historical cues and other thoughts from renowned cultural anthropologist.
  • Changing trends and themes from social-channel listening around the globe.

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