In What Do We Trust?

In the latter end of the 20th century, a significant shift in how consumers viewed categories, compared brands, and purchased products and services occurred. The shift related to a change in the values -- the belief systems, character, and ethos associated with brands -- consumers used as a tacit, right-brained “yardstick” to determine whether a brand measured up to what they expected.

Customer Satisfaction, Total Quality, and ISO 9000 programs of the late 20th century pretty much guaranteed that companies that survived to compete in today’s marketplace were going to be turning out products and services mostly “right” and pretty much the same.

As the age of brand ubiquity arrived, the consumer decision process shifted from relying on rational values to engage consumers and drive behavior to more emotional values. Today, on average it is estimated the emotional-to-rational decision-process ratio is 70:30, in some categories as high as 80:20, which means that depending upon the category in which you compete, emotional values outweigh rational value by more than two, three, or four to one. You can quibble about the precise ratio in your category, but unless you are selling commodities, rational factors are not going to move audiences or products the way they did 30 years ago.



For marketers, the difficulty, of course, is identifying the right, emotional values to leverage. You can’t just ask consumers about them because either they can’t articulate them or, more often, they don’t want to articulate them. Emotional values are, after all, personal, affective, sensitive, and sometimes spontaneous. To compound the problem, different categories or sectors have different values that engage and drive consumers. Every category is different with different emotional values that drive consumers, with one exception.

“Trust” is universal to them all. (So is “value,” as in “price-value,” but that falls on the rational side of the decision process.) “Trust,” to one degree or another, is part of every category’s consumer decision process. The question is, how much does “trust” contribute to audience engagement?

To answer that question, Brand Keys relies on assessments based on a validated, psychological questionnaire (test-re-test reliability of 0.93, with results that are generalizable at the 95% confidence level). The higher-order statistical analyses identifies the percent-contribution each category attribute, benefit, and value makes to engagement and consumer behavior. Those assessments correlate very highly (0.80+) with positive behavior toward a brand, sales, and profitability.

Drawing from our 2018 Customer Loyalty and Engagement Index, we examined over 150 categories and 1,287 brands to determine how much “trust” contributed to brand success. These are the top 10 categories where “trust” makes the largest contribution to consumer engagement:

  1. Media (34%)

  2. Social Networking (28%)

  3. Computers (26%)

  4. Insurance (25%)

  5. On-line Payment Services (22%)

  6. Quick-Serve Restaurants (21%)

  7. Smartphones (19%)

  8. Banks (18%)

  9. Natural Food Stores (16%)

  10. Pet Foods 15%)

The analysis revealed interesting category segmentation based on “trust” as a driver of consumer behavior. Of the top ten categories, three were loosely related to “technology,” three had to do with “financials,” and three had to do with “food/nourishment.”

“Media” stood on its own at the top of the list, with a  “trust” percent-contribution significantly higher (+5%) than any other category, which is why Brand Keys is going to track -- and report on a bi-monthly basis -- trust levels for key media brands for MediaPost.

Currently Brand Keys tracks 50 media brands including Fox News, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Drudge Report, Politico, CNN, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Breitbart News Network, Disney, and the Weather Channel.

When it comes to the media, “trust” is something that readers and viewers seem to know when they feel it, and then act upon it -- pretty much the definition of how consumers react to an emotional value. But a deeper-dive, psychologically speaking, permits us to identify the foundations of media-trust, which include the following elements (presented alphabetically, since they all fuse to create “ media trust”):

* Accurate

* Balanced/Fair

* Candid/Truthful

* Clear

* Competent

* Ethical

* Familiar

* Having Integrity

* Investigative

* Qualified

* Skilled

* Social conscience

So in the spirit of William Shakespeare’s admonition in "All’s Well That Ends Well," to “Love all, trust few, do wrong to none,” this study will identify what trust levels various media is able to generate among its readers and viewers.

Because, after all, trust is what media is all about.

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