Part 2: Attaining trust during the crisis

This is the second text where we explore how the COVID-19 crisis will impact people’s relationship with companies and brands around the world. Read the first introductory article here.

Trust is the cornerstone of building a strong and meaningful relationship with people. At Lynxeye, we have studied the increased importance of it from our annual Purposeful Brands study. But consumer trust in brands is under siege and has been steadily eroding for a long time, down to today’s levels. The exception was the 2008–2009 recession, that gave a small boost in consumer confidence for brands that handled that crisis the best. But now several studies show that the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the drop.

At the same time, trust is impacting our choices and intentions to a greater extent than ever before. A significant share of consumers say that they will stay loyal for the long-term to companies that manage to gain their trust during the crisis. Studies of the 2008-2009 consumer sentiments show that consumers simplified choices by rewarding trusted brands. At Lynxeye, we are convinced that the winners of the future will emerge from the companies that succeed at establishing trust today.

This leaves us at a crossroads for the future of brands, where some brands will gain our trust and grow, while others will lose validity and fade away. In times of instability and crisis, we are simply more open to reevaluating old loyalties.

Based on the early insights from this crisis, this is what we believe will be important for companies to gain trust during the crisis:

Find your societal cause

People want companies to take active part in the fight against the virus. In fact, only about a fifth of people think that governments should deal with the efforts alone, according to a recent study by Edelman.

So even amid growing distrust towards companies, people expect them to step up and help. We want Apple and Google to use their platforms to track the virus spread, and H&M to produce PPE for healthcare staff. Guided by their purpose, companies should act to help society. People will respond with increased trust and loyalty.

Reach out with pure intentions

There is a fine line between reaching out in the right way and the wrong way right now. Studies show that people are more critical and skeptical towards companies’ intentions than usual. Companies’ initiatives must be based on honest intent, or people will see right through them. Those who stay genuine and act selflessly, will build solid trust with lasting loyalty as a result.

One US study found that the single most important thing for consumers, is that companies do not use the crisis for their own gain. This again shows how synching with your customers’ values is essential. A good example of a company succeeding at this is Ford, who is offering to change payment due dates or delay payment for US customers affected by the crisis. Greed will erode trust and ruin customer relationships for a long time.

Show that you care

We feel that we’ve lost control of our lives at the moment, and this is filtering into our relationship with brands. Will companies really keep their promises during these conditions? Will they fix things if something goes wrong? This means that companies need to walk the extra mile and show that you care about the people you serve. This is not the time for broken promises.

A key consideration for brands right now is to take protective measures towards consumers with respect to Covid-19. A solid example is Starbucks, that suspended the use of personal cups to limit the risk for their customers, while continuing to honor the 10-cent discount customers that brought their own cup were usually rewarded with. That kind of genuine care will build trust for the long-term.

Take care of your employees (too)

Times like these makes us question who we can trust to keep us safe. Recent studies show that employees see their employer as the most credible source of information, more so than authorities even. We expect that our own employer will try to keep us safe, and we trust the companies that keep their employees safe too.

Taking care of your employees will also raise morale and increase loyalty. From studying purposeful brands, we’ve learned that being seen as having devoted employees is key to making consumers believe in your company’s future. IKEA is a well-known example of this, at least on their home-market. Consumer confidence is more important than ever today, when people are looking for the brands that will walk the extra mile for them.

It’s hard to focus on the long-term when you’re struggling to cope with the short-term. But it is possible to manage the now while preparing for tomorrow. By aligning with people’s values, you can win both their trust and their order.

Show that you care for both people and society during these incredibly challenging times, it will be rewarding for everyone. People are both looking for inspiring companies to trust during the crisis, and are incredibly sensitive to pick up on negative examples too.

So, progress with purpose through the crisis – and beyond!

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Additional reading:
Lynxeye Purposeful Brands study
Edelman Trust Barometer COVID-19 Special
Forrester’s Consumer Energy Index
Qualtrics, How your brand can build & keep trust amid COVID-19