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In the post-pandemic world, consumer trust is a competitive advantage for market research

Andrew Reid
Andrew Reid is the founder and CEO..

Often when we talk about trust, it’s in the context of something that's been lost—and the massive costs involved. In 2018, Accenture did a survey of 7,000 companies and found that over half of them (54 per cent) had experienced a major drop in consumer trust, translating into $180 billion in missed revenue potential.

Pretty scary. On the flip side, there’s a lot of untapped potential when consumers trust you—and in its 2021 Trust Barometer survey of over 33,000 people in 28 countries, Edelman makes that opportunity abundantly clear. At a time when COVID shook people’s faith in our institutions—especially government, the media and NGOs—business came out on top as the world’s most-trusted institution.

On every issue from responding to COVID-related health and safety protocols to embracing sustainability practices, business is now trusted—more than other institutions—to “do what’s right.”

Turning trust into a competitive advantage

Knowing there is a foundation of trust, the question becomes: What do you do with it? Smart brands have figured out how to leverage trust to maintain and grow their customer loyalty in recent years. Take Apple, for instance. The tech company has made its commitment to protecting user privacy central to its brand promise—and at a time when consumers are increasingly concerned about how their data is being used, Apple’s positioning really sets it apart from the competition.

Smart brands have figured out how to leverage trust to maintain and grow their customer loyalty in recent years.

Whereas Apple has built its business around selling stuff—phones, computers, watches—Google and Facebook rely heavily on selling our data to subsidize their “free” services. But free always comes at a price: according to the Verge Tech Trust Survey from December 2019, the number one reason people choose not to use Facebook these days (46% of those surveyed) is “Privacy / Trust with my personal information.”

Compare that to Apple. How many times do I choose the Apply Pay option when I’m about to make a mobile payment because I trust Apple? I never think, “Oh, is my credit card going to get stolen by this third-party company?” In fact, I’m blindly confident.

When consumers implicitly trust you—whether because of your privacy or security policies, your commitment to sustainability, or the enduring quality of your products and services—they not only want to do more business with you. They also want to communicate with you, help you solve problems and make your brand stronger.

Trust is a two-way (communications) street

At Rival, we rely on a mobile-based research platform that encourages an ongoing, two-way dialogue between brands and their consumers—using the sort of casual communications we use with friends and family. Think about it: What makes our friends or family trust us? It’s when we are open and transparent; when we encourage honest feedback; and when we’re capable of showing real empathy.

For insights professionals, trust requires being transparent about our research, explaining our tools and methodologies—even allowing consumers to join us “behind the curtain.” In a previous post, I shared the example of a client who introduces herself in each project with a quick video while walking her dog. It’s casual, it’s fun—it’s human.

It’s also about showing vulnerability and admitting when we mess up. Brands often are afraid to admit to failure—but in increasing numbers, they realize such humility is critical to their success. According to human-resources consultancy Development Dimensions International, about 20 per cent of U.S. employers now offer empathy training as part of management development—a number that’s expected to double within the decade. There’s a clear connection between real empathy and brand success.

During the Year of COVID, we’ve heard it said over and over again that “we’re in this together.” That’s especially true for many brands—who, thanks to social distancing, have had to develop a much more direct relationship with consumers. For those who continue to embrace this newfound intimacy—who trust their customers to help solve problems, fill gaps and shape future products or services—the sky will be the limit.

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A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur.com on May 14, 2021. Copyright 2020 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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