Wave X Remix Culture: The loss of customer trust and how brands can win it back

Loss of privacy and low credibility of information sources on the internet have led to the loss of customer trust, says Wave X research

e4m by Shrikant Shenoy
Updated: Dec 23, 2019 9:32 AM
Wave X

Our previous article on Lodestar UM’s study Wave X Remix Culture identified the four most influential shifts shaping the modern consumer - Resist, Retrograde, Reglocalise and Recreate. We discussed how these shifts also served as pillars of a framework that enabled marketers to understand cultural trends and identify the territories brands should play in, audiences to target and media platforms they interact with.

This article takes a closer look at the Resist pillar. We study the decline of trust between consumers and brands, reasons behind the decline and counter-trends that brands can use to succeed in a trust deficit environment.

Resistance on the rise

Trust held societies together, overcoming barriers and forging bonds. However, trust is on the decline. Our differences now appear more conspicuous than ever before, dividing the world, shifting culture and giving rise to movements, marches and political strife.

Unrest in Syria and Yemen created a humanitarian crisis that the world is still trying to manage. French ‘gilet jaune’ workers opposed President Macron’s government. Thousands are fleeing countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala for a better life north of Mexico. Talk of a border wall in the United States further divided an already polarised society. Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2019 Greta Thunberg brought the struggle between development and climate action into the open. Here in India, the Citizenship Amendment Bill triggered a huge debate.

 Trust apocalypse on the net

While more Indians are online than ever before, most internet users lack confidence in what they see and read online. 84 per cent in India think that three-quarters or more of the information they get from social media is not true – rising to 90 per cent when it comes to information from supposedly trusted influencers like celebrities and bloggers/vloggers.

Trust between consumers and brands has been breached and shared values are being questioned. The percentage of Internet users in India who agree that they are influenced by opinions shared online grew between 2010 and 2017, as did the percentage of those who agree that they trust bloggers’ and vloggers’ opinions on products and services. However, the trend started reversing from 2017. The percentage of those who were influenced by opinions shared online fell by 5 points from 31per cent to 26 per cent. The percentage of those who trust bloggers/vloggers’ opinions on products and services fell by 3 points from 27per cent to 24 per cent.

 Why has trust suffered a decline? Our analysis identified two factors -

  1. Privacy concerns

The use of personal data is more top of mind for consumers than ever before. Indians are less enthusiastic about having their data tracked than they were in 2013. The percentage of Indians who agreed that ‘It’s ok for companies to track my online behaviour if it enables them to offer a more personalised service’ dropped from 59per cent in 2014 to 53 per cent in 2019.

Consumers are increasingly unhappy about their data being shared. 52 per cent agreed that ‘I don’t mind if my social network shares my data with other companies or organisation’ in 2014 which dropped to 46 per cent in 2019.  

  1. Low credibility of information sources

Trust varies significantly based on the source of information.

Social media is among the least trusted sources. People believe that most of what they read in social media is not true. Almost half (47 per cent) of those surveyed said that over 50per cent of the information they get from social media is not true.

The series of scandals related to fake news and data leaks from Facebook has played a key role in the decline of trust in social media.

The meteoric fall in trust started with the trending concept of ‘fake news’. It gained momentum over the Cambridge Analytica scandal in early 2018 that involved harvesting personal data of millions of Facebook profiles without the consent of the people they belonged to and using it for political advertising purposes. Although this was primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States, it had ramifications on social media in India too with 64 per cent of Indian Facebook users trusting the social media channel less.

Not only trust, even the need to seem active on social media fell, with about 69 per cent reporting any kind of activity vs 78per cent in the previous round.

Bloggers stood lower down the trust ladder. 53 per cent said that over 50per cent of the information they get from bloggers is not true. Celebrities were the least trusted source of information. Only 37per cent believed that at least 50per cent of the information they get from celebrities is true.

The most trusted form of media was the search engine. 66 per cent said they trusted at least 50 per cent of the information they get from online search. Newspapers were the second most trusted medium. 60 per cent said they trusted at least 50 per cent of the content in newspapers.

 How can brands stand tall in a trust deficit environment? Our analysis uncovered a few counter trends that can help brands survive and even thrive -

  1. Passions that unite

Despite the erosion of trust, we still pursue our passions. Trust is shifting out of sources of information and moving towards passions and beliefs that unite people.

Online platforms continue to play a unifier role. Wave X research revealed that 30 per cent of people agreed that online digital media of some type fulfilled their need to belong to communities based on shared passions, an 8-point increase over Wave 5.

This upward trend is a good indication that brands can build a bridge to belonging, once they understand what brings consumers together. Technology can help brands create spaces where like-minded audiences can come together and share experiences in a positive environment.

 Coke Studio in India tapped into music as a shared passion that brought youth together and increased brand love for Coca Cola. 

  1. Proactive advocacy

The internet democracy has made consumers increasingly confident about their ability to galvanise opinion and drive advocacy. Online movements are perceived to have the power to drive change.

One such example is that of South Korean women who rebelled against the tyranny of unrealistic beauty standards with the movement ‘Escape the corset’. Social media posts showed women smashing their cosmetics as a way of rejecting mainstream ideas of beauty.

Brands and celebrities who endorse brands face greater pressure to take a stand in such an environment.

However, strong brands can use proactive advocacy to their advantage by taking a leadership position and championing the causes that matter to them.

The Times of India’s #NoConditionsApply Sindoor Khela campaign made a powerful statement on discrimination against women. Growing in strength year after year, it advocates inclusiveness and condemns discrimination based on caste, marital status and sexual orientation.   

  1. The Snowball effect

Indians have traditionally allowed celebrities to keep their private life out of the public eye. Few cared about the exploits of a cricket icon off the field. All that mattered was winning matches for the team and keeping fans entertained on the field. Brands were evaluated from a limited perspective based on performance.

However, consumers now evaluate through multiple lenses, and are no longer satisfied with those who simply do their job well or deliver the best service.

Consumers expect brands and celebrities to ‘do more’ – and allow their sense of ideal behaviour to influence their consumption preferences. Brands are expected to measure up to greater scrutiny and be multifaceted role models.

For instance, 77per cent in India expect brands to play a role in driving social good.

This is the Snowball effect where a brand’s actions reflect on its imagery, stature and appeal, which in turn have a positive impact on society.

Antiseptic brand Dettol’s campaign ‘Dettol Banega Swachh India’ effectively complemented the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission and reinforced Dettol’s image as a socially conscious brand. 

We have seen in this article how consumer resistance and declining trust are redefining the consumer landscape. Marketers need to re-evaluate the role of media in the emerging environment, tap into trends and opportunities and devise new routes to engage audiences.

Our next article Retrograde: Rewind to the present will explore the shift towards authenticity and nostalgia and the role of digital in bringing past decades of music, art and culture within easy reach of the current generation.

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