Truthful Consumerism and How Brands Should Respond

A recent report by TrendWatching discussed a recent finding that trust in major institutions (government, business, media, and NGOs) is at an all-time low, which has left brands operating in a volatile new era of consumerism.

A tumultuous and polarizing political landscape in 2016 and the shift of power from brand to consumer has ushered in a dangerous new trend – trust issues. The Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year sums it up.

Post-truth – Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

Borders between truth and lies have blurred, resulting in a widespread sense that much of what we’re told can’t be trusted.

So how can brands combat mistrust and flourish in this new environment? 

In TrendWatching’s report, they identified what they call five truths or forces in response to truthful consumerism that should be applied by businesses to stay meaningful and relevant. So, what does this mean for retailers? We’ve broken it down into two key takeaways.

1. Be transparent

In a recent survey of over 10,000 consumers from around the world, 78% of consumers said it is somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent.’ And 70% said that these days I make it a point to know more about the companies I buy from.’

In 2017 and onwards it will be more important than ever for brands to ensure internal processes, culture, and values are public property. Half of all humans use a smartphone and expect to know pretty much anything they want to know about your brand, often instantly.

So, what does this mean? Brands must speak the language of consumers. Automotive, home, and garden retailer Canadian Tire did an excellent job of transparency with their Tested for Life in Canada’ campaign in which they sent select products to everyday Canadians to test, provide feedback, and give the badge of approval. In the Edelman report, it is revealed that 60% of consumers say a person like them’ is a credible source of information. This campaign shows the company respects their customer’s opinions and appreciates honest feedback. By building trusting relationships, Canadian Tire confidently navigates competitive markets knowing it has superior products that customers want.

The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer. - Thomas J. Watson, Founder, IBM Corp.

2. Make a positive impact and empower

Transparency, our connected lives, abundance of choice, the ability to get what we want when we want it and where we want it has led to a more empowered consumer. A total of 53% of consumers say that they actively avoid consuming from companies that have a negative environmental or social impact. The rise in transparency has led to a growing trend of consumer guilt. That is, consumers are more bothered by the negative impacts of their consumption. Brands that mitigate that guilt by making meaningful changes and aligning their image with positive impact are more likely to succeed.

Sprint’s done a great job in taking action to empower those currently left out. The network’s The 1Million Project is the largest corporate initiative of its kind and will give away one million internet-connected devices to disadvantaged U.S. high school students. The project aims to help bridge the homework gap’ for children who live in low-income households without reliable internet access. Each participating student will receive a free wireless device and free service for up to four years while in high school. 

Collectively, brands must adapt to and embrace these changes to survive and thrive in the coming years. Will consumer trust issues go away? Not anytime soon. Retailers can break down barriers by relating to their customers and pivoting to incorporate transparency and positive impact as part of their corporate DNA.

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