How long is it since you took anything at face value? It may seem cynical, but consumers really do face of a tide of misinformation, even from some of the highest institutions in the land – remember the infamous civil service ‘truth twisters’ tweet? As a result, the claim ‘a brand you can trust’ is generally taken with several large grains of salt, unless there is substantial evidence to back it up.
Being hard to come by, trust is therefore also a valuable commodity. Brands that can lay genuine claim to being trusted are much more likely to succeed than those with low levels of trust. Trust increases the mental availability of a brand, resulting in greater market share, advertising effectiveness and brand differentiation. And it’s more important than ever.
Marketing effectiveness expert Peter Field explains: “Over the last decade, the link between brand trust and business success has strengthened considerably. And especially from around 2016 when high-profile events began to rock people’s confidence in the truth of what they read online.”
But how do you know how much you are trusted as a brand? And what do you do with that information? What is trust, anyway?
The definition of trust
You can’t measure what you can’t define, and the word ‘trust’ can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. Newsworks, in collaboration with the research agencies Map The Territory and Tapestry Research, recently launched an in-depth study into the main elements that make up the concept of ‘trust’, its relationship to advertising (in particular, advertising with news brands), and how trust can be used to help advertisers accurately measure and understand consumers’ trust in their brands.
The research resulted in the identification of four ‘pillars’ of trust – perceived familiarity, fame, competence and risk. Evaluating a brand against each of these pillars gives a more accurate measurement of trust and, perhaps more importantly, shows the areas brands need to work on if they’re to improve those trust levels.
“Familiarity is about how familiar you are personally with something; a product or a brand. Trust is accrued and built up over time, through repeated interactions. The more experience we have with something, the more confident we can be in trusting it,” explains Sorcha Garduce, insight partner at Newsworks.
“Fame is about social bias: how well is a brand known for doing what it does, do other people know it? The more famous something is for doing what it does, the more likely we are to trust it. We like to outsource our thinking. Fame allows us to do this.
“Competence is whether the product or brand is good at what it says it does. And risk is either financial – will I get my money’s worth? – or social or personal risk. You need to understand what these things are in order to get that overall view of trust.”
This more detailed measurement of trust also explains the perennial puzzle of why smaller brands that seem caring and worthy are nevertheless unable to overtake large corporates that may appear comparatively untrustworthy.
“You’re not shopping with Amazon and trusting them to save the planet. That’s not what your relationship with Amazon is all about,” explains Ian Wright, joint managing director of research consultancy Tapestry. “I trust that they’re going to get a product to me tomorrow.”
Pull the right trust levers
The research reveals that, in general, familiarity and fame boost a brand, while perceived incompetence and the riskiness of the purchase drag on it. Strongly performing brands have high familiarity and fame, very low incompetence and relatively low risk.
It’s also why highly ethical – and even highly competent and low-risk brands – still fail to cut through. While the average trust score of the 150 brands Newsworks surveyed was 5.4, newer brands with very low familiarity or fame managed only 0.7. Compare this to the 3.3 scored by a brand that was significantly above average for incompetence, yet also had high familiarity and fame.
Trust can of course vary from category to category. High-cost purchases like a car will naturally influence risk more than stationery products, for example. This is where benchmarking is also important.
“It’s crucial for brands to benchmark against competitors. And you can see what your level of trust looks like against those benchmarks. You can then start to break down exactly what’s going on and start to develop a trust strategy,” Wright explains
That strategy goes beyond trust itself and can influence all sorts of areas of the business, such as pricing. “[You may wonder] why is a competitor able to price so much higher than you for a comparable product, but then you realise that their trust score is 20% higher than yours. Then you know you need to elevate your trust score to be able to compete on that pricing strategy,” he reveals.
News is a trust accelerator
It can seem as though big brands are likely to have an advantage on trust scores from the start, however smaller or seemingly less trusted brands are not stuck in the low trust rankings forever. Brand trust is not built in isolation. In particular, familiarity and fame are fed by the relationships brands build with consumers through communications channels. Quite simply, where you advertise matters.
Garduce reveals why news brands in particular are a critical media partner for marketers. “News sources give you much more trust in relation to misinformation. People want those checked and verified sources that they know they will get from news brands, because they know there will also be consequences if that doesn’t happen.”
Unsurprisingly then, the research found that there was a direct correlation between advertising on trusted news brands and improved trust metrics.
Established brands such as Tesco and Ben & Jerry’s, for which consumers have already built a view of their trustworthiness, still see a 1.3-times increase in brand trust when they advertise on a trusted news brand, compared to a non-news brand site. However, for newer brands, the uplift is even greater, seeing a 1.8-times increase in brand trust compared to the non-news site.
Critically, the increase in trust doesn’t just apply to fame and familiarity, but also helps improve perceptions of competence and risk, reducing the brand ‘drag’. The research found that consumers were 30% less likely to question the competence of a brand when it advertised on a news brand and rated the brand 20% less risky than those advertising on a non-news site.
Similarly, when it came to the perceived quality of the product – not in itself one of the trust pillars, but identified by Peter Field as a critical contributor to profit alongside it – perception of quality was 1.6 times higher when consumers saw brands advertising on a news brand versus a non-news brand.
“In the last 10 years or so, trust as a metric has become absolutely key for driving profit, going from the least important factor to the second most important after quality,” Garduce reveals.
“People have become a lot more sceptical. The message is simple. Brand trust drives quality perception and those are the two things that are driving profit growth.”
What’s more, insights from Field’s latest iteration of the IPA Databank Study highlight that one way for brands to increase levels of brand trust and brand quality is through the use of news brands. The data shows that the the business benefits that advertisers get from news brands are stronger than ever.