Consumers are more cautious when they are online compared to how they behave offline when it comes to trusting and interacting with brands, according to a new study by Research Now.
Across the entire group of people it surveyed, 85 per cent are more likely to trust a brand if they are in one of its shops or other areas of the ‘offline world’, than when they are online, according to the study, which spoke to 2,500 regular users of social media in the UK, US and Australia.
Consistency is vital for brands as the study also finds that a third of people have noticed discrepancies between a brand’s online and offline image. Virgin, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Tesco and US retailers JC Penney and Target are cited as being inconsistent.
Research Now’s Mike Murray, head of project consultancy, believes that this builds distrust, especially when consumers are not getting the same experience online as offline.
“The main thing is about clarity and people did seem very disappointed if something wasn’t the same in-store than online,” he says.
People also prefer engaging with a brand in person at an event or in store, rather than via its website; 65 per cent agree that offline interactions are more fulfilling than those online.
Marketers concur. Sam Blunt, brand experience and digital controller at Kellogg’s believes a consistent brand image is vital. “It makes sense to integrate communications across the different touch-points.”
Kellogg’s created a Crunchy Nut ‘restaurant’ in several UK shopping centres where people were given the choice of seven dishes; sampling in supermarkets followed. Created with agency The Lounge Group, the push encouraged people to visit the brand’s Facebook page and Blunt says the campaign helped Kellogg’s connect the online and offline worlds. Post-campaign research shows increased levels of brand advocacy and integrity that carried through to online, where consumers were happy to tag themselves in photos the brand posted on social media sites.
Maxitone, which produces protein-based products for fitness, also turned to experiential marketing to build trust and educate people in a sector that is often misunderstood.
The activity saw Maxitone’s experiential agency Circle organise partners including LA Fitness, England Netball and Nike+ Kinect, to have a presence at the event at Westfield shopping centre in White City, London along with staff who aimed to ‘break protein myths’ for consumers and explain the benefits of its products.
Activity was linked online via a Facebook page and Twitter hashtag ‘thank you protein’, to make sure the offline activity was continued online.
Kate Wells, senior brand manager at Maxitone says: “Women tend not to understand the importance of protein so we need to help them understand. The experiential at Westfield was designed to do that as well as raise awareness of us. We used social media to encourage people to visit us and sample our products.”
This level of trust in online claims and ads matching the actual experience feeds through to other service-based brands, in particular hotels.
As more consumers spend time researching hotels before booking, there is added pressure on these brands to maintain consistency in online messaging, image and service compared to the reality of the hotel experience.
Richard Lewis, chief executive of Best Western Hotels UK talks about the decision-making moment that happens online, saying this shows the internet has changed how we decide to buy.
Lewis says: “In the hospitality industry, it’s had a powerful effect of being able to raise expectations of consumers and guests before they travel, and that in turn has raised the level of delivery that the hotels need to achieve to meet the expectations.”
So Best Western shows its different property types, ‘from mansions to castles’, says Lewis, and is getting those messages across to consumers. “We need to celebrate that difference and have consistency of service delivery. The guest is obviously expecting to have certain levels of product and service delivery but within that we have to celebrate the difference so the traveller and guest gets a real experience.
“In many cases that is why we travel, not to get the same product again and again but to go and have an experience, especially for leisure.”
Research Now’s study also reveals that there is peer pressure when people are posting on sites such as Facebook, with 78 per cent who ‘like’ a brand aware that this says something about them as a person and may have an effect on how they are perceived by others.
It also suggests that marketers must be careful about how they use their branded Facebook pages and make sure staff answer queries there, says Murray. “Brands are trying to keep up their image on social media as an open environment. They are keen to keep up [their customer services] and maintain a healthy brand image.”
The survey also looks at whether respondents trust security settings online and if they have altered any of their posts on social media as a result of negative feedback.
The study shows that some people have a lax approach to security, with 19 per cent using the same password across all social media sites and 25 per cent sharing some passwords.
On the other hand, 56 per cent report that they use unique passwords for each social media site and more than 80 per cent are aware of restrictive settings and know how to apply them.
There is still a way to go before people will trust the management and control of their online data. Twenty-eight per cent of respondents believe their security settings could be changed or reversed accidentally and almost a quarter do not believe that if they set updates and photos to ‘friends only’, this genuinely means only friends can see them.
Consumer concerns around brands online lies in privacy and consistency, not only in brand image but also in values, service and price – all of which consumers expect to match the offline experience. Social media can play a vital part in building trust in terms of customer service, brand transparency and linking offline campaigns to online content.
Best Western Hotels director of marketing and ecommerce Tim Wade says it is about having the right values and ensuring they are communicated correctly. “It’s vital as an organisation that we do that and we deliver on those values, whether it’s online or offline. It’s less about an image consistency than a values consistency.”
However, the research shows that many brands still have a lot to do in order to marry all of these consumer touch-points.
Director of marketing and ecommerce
Best Western Hotels
The study says more people trust brands offline than online, so we have to work hard to make sure that when people use our websites to research and book, we instil that trust so the guest knows they are dealing with the brand owner and can rely on the fact that what we say will be delivered.
Travel is emotive: people save a lot of money to go away and social media and review sites help them to gain that trust and user expertise from other people. We use TripAdvisor on our website; consumers can see what others are saying about our hotels – it’s not doctored by us.
Individual preferences can dictate how people contact us. The online industry has evolved but there are still areas where people would rather contact the hotel direct to speak to a human.
Head of marketing fashion and beauty
Trust is at the heart of the John Lewis brand so we really focus on ensuring our online communications mirror our shop service. We create trust by featuring our shop partners [its staff are called partners] as much as possible in online communications, for instance inspirational articles on johnlewis.com, online ratings and reviews and interactive Facebook sessions.
We are very aware that customers expect to be able to shop securely with us. As well as all the behind-the-scenes systems we have in place, we are clear about when customers are entering a secure part of the website, placing the VeriSign logo in a prominent position. We also have a slightly different look and feel to the checkout section of the site.