The Problem (and the opportunity) of CPG Brand Trust

/ 26 April 2021

By Mike Giambattista, Publisher, TheCustomer

One of the best ways to measure true customer loyalty is to gauge if and how a person would go out of their way to buy your product if it weren’t the most convenient or cost/value efficient.  

This scenario played out countless times as the pandemic approached and certain commonly used and easily obtainable products became at least temporarily scarce and many consumers had to buy a product other than their preferred brand during the initial stages of lockdown.  

But did that mean brand loyalty had gone away?  Hardly.  It just took a vacation.  In fact, recent Brand Keys research shows a remarkable resilience in loyalty to everyday (CPG) brands that met the circumstance with authenticity, transparency and trust. 

“There’s a very high correlation between brands that best meet consumers’ mostly- emotional expectations – values related to being authentic, being transparent, and ultimately being trusted – and actual sales, market shares, and bottom-line profits. During events like a pandemic, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that shoppers will buy whatever’s available. It’s the remaining 98% of the time when they buy that loyalty proves it’s efficacy.”

Robert Passikoff, President, Brand Keys

Brand affinity or consumer sentiment generally falls along a spectrum that puts high dollar purchases at one end of the scale (the upper end) and low dollar “commodity” purchases at the other end.  The idea being that people will often assign more emotional value to a brand with a higher perceived value and price than they will to a brand that, under normal circumstances, requires minimal emotional investment.

But it’s precisely that valuation gap where CPGs, in particular, have the biggest opportunity to move from commodity to a higher rung on the valuation scale.

Brands that engender trust can build brand loyalty.  Brands that build brand loyalty can sustain and even thrive in sub-optimal environments.

In any healthy relationship, be it personal, business, or otherwise, there is an expectation that the other party can be trusted to meet certain basic qualities.  Think about your own experiences personally and which brands come to mind?  Similar to how there are a handful of people you know you can trust, there are likewise, a handful of brands you know you can trust, and they are your go-to’s.

But it has to start at trust.

And trust has to start with a certain amount of transparency.  When two parties come together, each has to have enough at stake in the relationship that they assign a measurable value to the other.  In other words, the relationship has to “mean” something for both parties.

If one party signals a willingness to be transparent, the other party typically assigns them a measure of trust.  If, as is done in most customer / brand relationships, the idea of trust is simply part of the brand story and has never been proffered materially, interactively to the customer, without any meaningful exchange, then that trust is at best, assumed.  At worst, it could be nonexistent.

Current media and industry noise around the notions of 3rd party cookies, 3rd party data, dark patterns, and over-fishing ads are amplifying existing consumer concerns that have been exploding for the past several years.  It would be too easy to point our fingers at runaway adtech or so say that this is the fault of a renegade few, but the honest (painfully honest) truth is that we marketers have done this to ourselves.  And the result is an erosion of trust at historic levels.

CPG’s Golden Opportunity

For the first 45 days of the lockdown toilet paper scarcity became everyone’s favorite meme and, simultaneously, a case study in missed opportunity.  While the world panicked and demand outstripped supply by never-before-heard margins, companies were presented with a unique, once-in-a-lifetime chance to speak to consumers who were literally doing everything they could to score their product.  

CPGs by definition have a difficult time establishing direct relationships with their customers because those relationships are largely created by – and guarded by the retailers who sell their products.  Bridging that linked system has proven to be loyalty gold for brands who have achieved it – even though few have.

What if the paper manufacturers had decided to use the TP crisis to build that bridge?  What if, rather than scrambling with defensive (or non-existent) PR moves, paper companies had presented messaging that made themselves available to their consuming public?  By deploying a series of simple permissioned-data acquisition campaigns, paper manufacturers could have gained valuable insight directly from their consumers and built an emotional bond (we call that brand loyalty) in the process. 

Brands can no longer afford to present a public face that smiles while pursuing abusive acquisition practices behind the curtain.  Products that rely heavily on brand affinity need to wake up from their false sense of security and recognize the fragility of their market stature as consumers become more aware – and more wary – of companies that don’t or won’t meet their new standards of expectation and trust.

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