Do you trust the brands that you use? If not, you may not be alone, as a new report from Australia shows that the consumer's trust of major brands is lower than ever.

Whether it's consumers having less money to spread around, or whether there's a real decline in the quality of customer goods and services these days, companies across several industries don't rank very highly with consumers Down Under.

The report from Brand Asset Valuator showed that trust in retail, financial services, insurance and utility companies have dropped to 20 percent in the last two years, with bad customer service, raised prices, and questionable deal-offerings being the main reason.

"Trust can be lost very quickly if a brand doesn't behave the way it promises it will, which can happen to even large brands. You've absolutely got to stick to your promises, warned Andy Pontin chief executive of Australia-based ad agency Clemenger BBDO.

Consistency is vital

In an interview with a Sydney news outlet, Clemenger explained that "consistency is also extremely important when establishing trust. Once people have a strong perception of a brand, they find it very unsettling if the brand changes its approach."

Pontin also said it's all about brands sticking to its promises and always keeping the consumer in mind. Today's customer has a high level of buying-intelligence, and with a plethora of physical and online store options, businesses are being held more accountable for their everyday practices.

The Australian survey may provide insight to the findings in an April 2012 Nielsen report, suggesting that consumers have more trust from word of mouth advertising than traditional company advertising.

The Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey revealed that 92 percent of customers around the world trusted "earned" media, compared to their 2007 study that showed only 18 percent trusted word of mouth advertising over other forms of marketing.

The Nielsen survey also showed that 70 percent of consumers chose online customer reviews to select a brand, company or product. This further supports the Australian report that the consumer's trust is moving further away from the company, and closer to the opinions of their peers.

If companies pay attention, they may be willing to shift some of their strategies. Paris Searson, vice president of PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, said that a brand can create all of the creative and ongoing advertising it wants, but if its actions don't consistently match its words, its promotional attempts are useless.

"Authenticity is vital when building trust", she said to the Australian press. "You've got to create a two-way dialogue both with staff and customers and speak the truth.

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