Evaluating the ‘Trustworthiness’ of others is an innate human ability. We have evolved to assess the risk associated with every action we undertake, and part of that risk-assessment involves a judgment about whether to trust that someone (or something) will play their part, or whether they will let us down. Indeed, this ability to judge whether we should trust another person is so vital to our everyday lives that these judgments occur automatically, and almost instantly. When shown the face of a stranger, we automatically judge that person’s ‘trustworthiness’ within 100 milliseconds.
So what does this mean for brands?
The more credible a brand is perceived to be, the more likely it is to be considered by a consumer, and the more likely the brand is to be purchased. Interestingly, when splitting out the factors of ‘credibility’, it is perceived trustworthiness, rather than expertise, that affects consumer choices and brand consideration more. The reliance on perceived brand credibility in consumer decision-making is especially strong in contexts with high uncertainty, such as a product launch or a new category. Importantly, that ‘gut-level’ emotional judgment of whether a brand can be trusted tends to outweigh any rational justification.
Since the automatic emotional perception of a brand’s ‘Trustworthiness’ is so important, the ability to measure it accurately across multiple dimensions is critical. To really understand brand perceptions we need to go beyond what consumers tell us about their conscious thoughts and feelings to also understand their ‘gut instincts’, which happen under the surface of awareness. This is because people’s conscious and non-conscious perceptions of a brand don’t always line up. For instance, when talking about banks, people often report that they think all banks are untrustworthy, but implicit testing reveals that at an instinctive level people generally do trust banks (albeit some more than others). Therefore, different research methods can reveal different brand perceptions, and these different layers of perceptions come into play at various times in the relationship between consumer and brand.
In order to understand how different brand perceptions might affect brand decision-making across the consumer journey, we advise measuring in several ways and layering these insights…
One obvious way brands regularly measure consumer trust is through conscious responses, either via qualitative research like interviews or focus groups, or through quantitative methods like a survey. Through these more traditional research methods, brands can understand their consumers’ explicit feedback regarding the brand’s value and positioning in the market as well as gather some valuable opinions and certain needs from their consumers.
Brand trackers are also useful when considering conscious responses, as they help to break down how consumers consciously feel about your brand over time. This can be extremely useful when brands are seeking to improve consumer trust, as it allows you to understand how your brand is performing in real time and whether it is being affected by any activities such as marketing campaigns or PR scandals.
When gathering consumer opinions and data, we must be mindful of the intention-action gap: the difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do. Our non-conscious thoughts don’t always match our conscious ones, and so it is important to also study brand perception on an implicit level.
Implicit response testing comes in many varieties, but all aim to measure the strength of peoples’ reactions to stimuli at a subconscious level. Famously used to reveal the unspoken racial biases that people may have, the methodology has been used in consumer research for a number of years now to understand the subconscious perceptions consumers have about brands and products.
Adding another layer of testing to our research toolkit means that we can understand consumer’s thoughts in a natural setting, not just through controlled testing. By using discourse analysis we can gauge what consumers are saying about a brand on social media and analyse their language and expression to further understand their thoughts and feelings about a brand.
During discourse analysis, we use our tools to scrape social media for any mention of the brand, competitors and general category. The text is then run through an algorithm which groups the conversations into key themes which we can analyse further: emotional analysis reveals the highest (and lowest) indexing emotions associated with each theme. From these brand conversations we learn the expressed perceptions of the brand in the real world.
Putting the puzzle together
This list isn’t exhaustive – there are many more methodologies that brands might consider using to assess whether their brand is perceived to be ‘Trustworthy’. However, the key is this: brand perceptions exist on multiple levels in the minds of consumers. As researchers, we need to break away from just using the traditional methods of qualitative and quantitative as it is only giving us one piece of the puzzle. To understand all the perceptions that might be at play during the consumer journey, it is good practice to layer multiple research techniques which each aim to uncover different aspects of consumer perception, and in turn, evaluate a brand’s ‘Trustworthiness’.