Confounding Trust Expectations

Back in February, as we were heading toward the significant health crisis that is now so profoundly impacting the world and indeed Australia, we were preparing for GfK’s next client seminar by talking to Australians about their trust in brands, businesses and the impact changing technology might be having in the mix. At that time, it was already evident there was a lack of trust in business in Australia. For example, our own Consumer Life study showed only 34% Australians trust business.

This lack of trust is in part the result of widespread cynicism among Australians. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Australian Supplementary Study, 59% of Australians believe that businesses serve the interests of ‘only the few’ rather than ‘everyone equally and fairly’. We saw this also in our own conversations with consumers where their expectation is that brands will act first and foremost in their own best interest rather than that of their customers or the community at large. Confirmation bias further entrenches this cynicism: People are more likely to notice the actions that are in the business’ interests and miss those that are genuinely altruistic.

In this context, among all the terrible health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, brands have an opportunity to either confound or confirm consumer expectations. The confounding route will be the one that builds consumer trust. Essentially, we can authentically care about our customers and the broader community, and in doing so demonstrate we are not solely motivated by our own self-interest.

An example of where this went awry for a large brand in the last week is the F1 in Melbourne. It is not exactly clear how it came to be that the event was only publicly called off at about 10am on the Friday morning before the race. However, the decision in the preceding week to bring all the teams to Melbourne in preparation for the race and the prolonged lead up to the announcement of the cancellation resulted in the current F1 champion, Lewis Hamilton, stating on TV that ‘cash is king’ when it comes to decision making in F1. That, in his opinion, was the reason for the race still going ahead at that stage. This is the F1’s most recognizable face effectively confirming the widely held cynical view.

In looking at a range of reactions online from the F1 community on the internet while some have taken a measured approach, there are many who have had their trust in F1 damaged.

As we demonstrated in our research and discussions, there are several layers to building and maintaining trust with consumers; key among them is authentically caring about customers and the broader community then acting accordingly. The starting position of most Australians is that brands and businesses don't. To build trust, our actions need to defy this expectation consistently to break down the cynicism supported by confirmation bias.  F1 is going to have to work just that little bit harder now  to build this element of trust into their brand.