Erosion of trust and new emerging paradigm

Trust is a very important parameter in every brand’s arsenal.

Trust is a basic human emotion. Trust is the foundation of sociability, and in any culture it’s the level of trust that defines the level of bonding. The brands operate in similar ways; they build on propositions that the consumers trust. The consumers treat trust as buying shorthand and often shorten their evaluation. Trust allows a brand to become the preferred brand as the consumers believe they will experience the same emotional benefits that the brands’ promise.

However the crisis in economy fundamentally alters this trust equation. For instance today more governments are likely to default on loans then large corporate. Traditionally the governments were the safest to lend a loan to, now that seems to be under a cloud. Today trust in government, institutions and people is being eroded. I am not putting politicians here, as they were never trusted. The erosion of trust then leads to an erosion of optimism and the feeling of brighter future.

Take for instance Nokia, which is India’s most ‘trusted’ brand for last 4 years in the Brand Equity Survey. This is a remarkable feat in itself, as the brands that lag Nokia are really a generation old brands, where as Nokia is new age. This stamp of trust should result in a disproportionately larger consumer bonding and therefore a larger market share. But what is happening with Nokia’s market share is not hidden from anyone, but significantly it is losing to brands that are less trusted than Nokia!

Brands build on trust by building on social acceptability, sense of achievement or as a symbol of success. In an upwardly mobile world that is what the consumer is constantly seeking. Recognition, my impact on the world, my influence on the world around me, are symbols of optimism and success.

Erosion of trust alters human behavior. People reduce their social circle, they become more inward looking, they seek greater assurance, they move from being future oriented to present state. The context of living changes significantly, trust replaces anxiety; approval from others replaces approval from me, and need for status replaces need for acceptance.

This impacts the behavior of the consumers and possibly alters their behavior. It’s not that the need for trust disappears, it stays and is very important, but possibly the need for relevance becomes dominant. In the new paradigm the performance and the price paid takes a dominant position and the need for getting the right value for what they pay becomes more important. For example Honda is the most trusted car brand, but that does not mean ever car that Honda places in market will not be critically evaluated with the filter of relevance, value and price.

This means brands in post crisis world will have to work harder. They will need to get a newer understanding of behavior. The propositions will have to move beyond status, standard, success and power to being right, consistent, honest and transparent.

We haven’t done this in a long while, the time is now.

1 thought on “Erosion of trust and new emerging paradigm

  1. In real life relationships, when trust gets low, we usually “take a break”, i.e. give each other space as it’s not wise to connect emotionally – that’s a one-way street. We take a metaphorical “step backwards” & concentrate more on clarity. So i feel that when trust dips, then transparency becomes important and building on that, value. This means Complete information, No asterisks & No blanket statements. Benefits have to be well-defined – supported rationally, without over-stepping emotionally. Having emotional connect is still important, but without “reason to believe” (that all too common research parlance :)), customer may not reciprocate to emotional branding routes. So having apparently-clear benefits with transparent information backing the benefit, is what could possibly revive the relationship.


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