The Threshold of Trust


Written by Davina O'Donoghue

They say that trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair; and now more than ever does this old adage hold true. In the UK, trust between consumers and brands and between citizens and authorities is paper-thin and becoming increasingly more fragile by the day. If we continue along this path in the UK, what sort of behaviour might we observe, and which attitudes will evolve and impact on daily life?

To predict the future in one market, it is often good practice to assess patterns in adjoining markets, to pick out markers and triggers that might signal things to come. Our recent work in Europe has turned out some interesting insights that may give us an indication as to what’s to come next in the UK.

In Italy we have seen some interesting adaptations to an increasingly fragmented political situation. This may not be new, but recently it has manifest itself as frustration and distrust in the system. 103 parties are set to stand in the March elections, each with their own agenda and set of policies. This fracture is causing difficulties in pinpointing what constitutes as the common good and is translating to wariness and distrust on an individual level. Consumers are taking a strongly individualist attitude and creating a personal sphere to protect their interests, only making room for their closest friends and family. The family is becoming a private universe, which although shrinking in size, is staying whole for longer, with the average child staying at home until reaching thirty. For brands to break into this universe, they need to appeal to the family as a collective. They should be driving an optimistic vision and picture themselves as allies offering a solution, not a challenge. In some ways, in Italy brands can play a role in becoming the symbolic substitutes for the institutional protection that is not there.

In Russia, the political situation is very different, but the outcome is not all that dissimilar. It is not fracture that is causing distrust, but quite the opposite. It is significant distrust towards the official authority that is providing information to them without alternative perspectives. The carry through is that Russians are questioning the validity of all the information they receive, and at a consumer level this is leading Russians to seek verification and trustworthy sources before forming their attitudes and opinions. This is increasingly taking the form of independent sources, word of mouth and known experts that are building their own trusted relationships with consumers.

Like Italy, the family is important to Russians, but here the family is an entity that can be protected from the outside, and not necessarily something that the individual needs to immerse themselves in. Individuals still seek personal social approval and they are striving to achieve on an individual level, but this creates a paradox of mass individuality. It is this concept that is presenting an opportunity for brands in Russia.

In the UK we are starting to see similar behaviours manifest themselves in the British public. Our work with UK consumers on the subject of protectionism has identified a segment of consumers that are right now experiencing the beginnings of a trust crisis. The first signs are a lack of trust in the authorities, but it soon follows with active rebellion. Consumers demand transparency and honest content and start to question and reject all information that they don’t feel to be genuine. One of the hallmarks of this group is a desire to drive change in both their local and global environment and so they are drawn to brands that promote environmental and ethical causes. There are other key attitudes that we can identify from this group:

• Have lost trust in ‘big brands’ and prefer to buy more niche, local made or small batch

• Demand authenticity and transparency and are likely to interrogate claims

• They strive to align with brands that promise a higher order purpose and speak to positive change in process, packaging, sourcing and ingredients

• They seek to celebrate and champion brands that align with their values and punish (boycott) those who do not

• Word of mouth is hugely important; this audience values the perspective of their tribe

So how do brands find their place in this consumer crisis? We believe there are four key learnings that brands have the power to deliver on.

1. Feed consumers’ desire for disruption

Consumers seek to transform their macro/ micro worlds in a way that works towards a better future. As such, they are uneasy with the status quo … they desire disruption, challenge and the promise of a better future

2. Deliver on a brand purpose

Consumers hunger for a brand with a philosophy and sense of purpose, offering something bigger than the product itself

3. Be authentic

In an age of declining trust in institutions of authority; consumers seek reassurance, trust and honesty.

4. Create a community feel

As the world changes, our fundamental human desire for connection does not. Regardless of segment there is a desire for consumers to connect with likeminded individuals; to share ideas, find new inspiration and connect over shared values and experiences