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Building Trust During the Fake News Age

September 17, 2020

Steve Maul

September 17, 2020

For its boundless conveniences, the internet has also created a daily minefield for us each to navigate. Malware, data theft, and more recently, misinformation are complicating the way both individuals and businesses operate. Today, the average web surfer may have trouble deciphering between legitimate information and the millions of “fake news” articles being shared and re-shared on social media.

This is a wholly unique challenge -- one that, like so many in the digital age, we’re figuring out together. Unfortunately, the surge of fake news and daily misinformation has contributed to record-low numbers in consumer trust, along with general anxieties and tensions. These issues have only worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic and the perceived response by consumer brands and media conglomerates.

A number of studies, both in the U.S. and abroad, show that misinformation has likely worsened the pandemic and delayed our collective recovery. Due to politics, anti-science groups, and corporate fears of losing business, the COVID crisis has been a recent focal point of fake news accounts trying to convince readers of its causes, cures, response efforts, or flat-out nonexistence. Not to mention those scam artists trying to get rich off the crisis with fake vaccines and counterfeit medical products.

These rampant disinformation campaigns, paired with widespread fake news surrounding the upcoming election, have led to general malaise and skepticism in our daily search for truth. This spills over into our buying habits and our relationships with brands. Even Amazon, the most popular e-commerce site in the world, is taking a hit. In June 2020, the company reported a record dip in brand trust, down 19% from 2019.

Sweeping calls for social justice and structural change have further ignited these issues. How our favorite brands respond -- or, in some cases, don’t respond -- to these timely causes is stirring a more immediate and severe reaction among consumers than ever before.

Wherever your executive team stands on these issues, today’s customers are demanding a moral stand from brands, and are taking their business elsewhere in some cases when brands fail to deliver. As many as two-thirds of consumers will either buy or boycott products based on the brand’s position on social or political issues, according to one study. Another recent report showed that 60% of U.S. consumers will buy or boycott based on how brands address racial equality in the coming weeks.

Consumer trust should never be expected, it should be earned. In these historic, transitional times, where tensions and fears abound, brands need to work overtime to earn and maintain trust in every aspect of their operation. According to an Edelman report, 81% of consumers surveyed said that brand trust is a deal breaker or deciding factor when making a purchase, and 70% said that brand trust is more important today than it was in the past.

Some other key findings from the report:

  • 81% of consumers said that the increased importance of brand trust reflects concerns about their own health, privacy, and financial stability.
  • 81% are being influenced by how they perceive brands’ societal impact.
  • 58% want brands to advocate for change and be a positive force in shaping our culture.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 consumers avoid advertising, including 78% of 18-34 year-olds.
  • 75% of people with high brand trust will only buy products of that brand, even when there are cheaper alternatives.

As our trust in advertising wanes, especially in the proverbial trash heap of online misinformation and fake news, brand trust has to be earned on a deeper level. Personal experience, earned media, and peer conversations are the three driving forces behind earned trust, according to Edelman. A paid ad on social media? Not so much, at least not right now.

Dozens of household brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola recently pulled their advertising from Facebook. This was done in solidarity with a coalition of advocacy groups, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), that accuse Facebook of "allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform." As social networks fail to act on fake news and violent speech, time and time again, brands are finally speaking out in the best interests of their customers.

The rules are changing in real-time, as they say. Just as the agile philosophy has transformed our workflows, those brands that can adapt and address customer trust across their operation will stand a better chance of survival and success.

Building and fostering trust in the coming months may entail all aspects of your business, from your packaging design to your sustainability practices. It may also involve new levels of transparency and visibility into your products, procedures, hiring decisions, and corporate values. This includes matters of data privacy as well, after thousands of companies -- including Facebook -- came under fire for misusing private information and abusing the trust of their global customer base.

(Read how LocatorX can increase visibility into your supply chain for both customers and employees, while preventing counterfeits and streamlining production and delivery.)

Working with a management consulting or marketing strategy firm can be a boon for businesses looking to rise to the moment and earn trust among consumers, regardless of industry. Some brands may double-down on their current approach, based on their existing values and reputation among customers. Others will be forced to take a scalpel to their branding, organizational structures, partnerships, and even the products themselves in the name of earning and keeping trust in our fast-evolving climate.

The urgency and uncertainty of this crisis has stoked a fire across the world. People are demanding more from their governments, media channels, and businesses on the whole. Customer-focused businesses will soon find out what they are made of, and only those ready to earn their brand trust -- and put values ahead of profit -- may come out on the other side.

Continue to follow our blog for more on data privacy, culture, and LocatorX. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for company updates and industry insights.

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