The tactile is personal and marketing that feels personal is more likely to be trusted — so USPS being the No. 1 brand Americans trust isn’t a huge surprise. But the fact that only 42% of those surveyed believed they could rely “a lot” on the U.S. Postal Service “to do what is right” is most telling about the overall state of trust in society.
Morning Consult’s survey “The 25 Most Trusted Brands in America,” announced on Jan. 13, (Opens as a PDF) says that USPS beat tech giants Amazon (38.8%) and Google (37.9%) by 4%, and No. 25 brand Walmart (32.5%) by 10%. But that win is on-par with political pluralities, instead of glowing public support. The synopsis says:
“Survey respondents were asked ‘How much do you trust each brand to do what is right?’ They could respond a lot, some, not much, not at all, or don’t know. This ranking is determined by share of ‘a lot’ responses. For example, 42% of consumers trust USPS a lot.”
Americans trust the news media (8%) more than they trust the government (7%), but they trust brands the least, says Morning Consult data. But when you add in specific names, the story changes. Americans have more trust for a specific brand — USPS — than “corporate America,” which only 6% of U.S. residents trust “a lot.” (If you add the 16% of survey-takers who expressed no opinion into the ones who rated corporate America worthy of little or no trust, that’s 70% of Americans who don’t trust brands.) Only Wall Street (5% report a lot of trust) and Hollywood (4%) fared worse.
The Morning Consult research says Americans’ distrust results from years of letdowns. (Think Boeing. That marketer’s not on this list.)
“Levels of distrust are high in America: Distrust is particularly high when it comes to institutions and major concentrations of power,” reads the research.
The main surprise here, though, is how many marketers are noticing this survey.
Despite there being a lot of top brand and brand trust reports out there — with Interbrand and Edelman being the top names for that research, respectively — this inaugural survey by Morning Consult is getting a lot of attention from entities like the American Marketing Association; trade publications serving marketers, advertisers, and financial professionals; and independent marketing consultants.
Perhaps Because the Research Seems Thorough
The report’s announcement reads:
The report is the largest study of its kind, featuring an average of 16,700 interviews per brand for nearly 2,000 brands. It also showcases brand trust by generation, highlighting Google’s dominance with Gen Z and Millennials and USPS’s win with Gen X and Boomers.
“It’s no secret that trust is key to brand success,” notes Michael Ramlet, CEO of Morning Consult. “In today’s climate, every single day presents leaders with the opportunity to cultivate reliability — a key driver of trust.”
Perhaps Because the Report Includes Generational Marketing Insights
Don’t pay attention to what people say, pay attention to what they do.
Going through the report using USPS as a benchmark, the brand ranked No. 12 with Gen Z adults at 37.2%; No. 2 with Millennials at 43%; Gen X, No. 1, 41.7%; and Boomers, No. 1, 42.2%.
The No. 1 brand for Gen Z adults was Google (47.1%) and the same for Millennials (44.2%).
While these results are intuitive on one level, with tech scoring higher among younger Americans and a legacy print-based brand achieving trust among older Americans, the results also showed counterintuitive findings. Gen Z adults were the most trusting, followed by Millennials; but the generation that came just before Gen Y — Gen X — was the least trusting. Even Boomers were less cynical than Gen Xers. (This, despite the research showing Gen Z adults and Millennials told researchers they were the most distrusting of brands, overall, and Gen X said it trusted the most. Again, with the specific brand questions returning a different result.)
Perhaps the Research Is Getting So Much Attention Because It’s Providing Theories About How Marketers Can Earn Americans’ Trust
The Morning Consult report states:
“Consumers tend to trust most major brands: Looking at 100 major brands, the average is trusted by 59% [of respondents] and distrusted by just 13%.”
When a brand is reliable, Americans say they trust it. That’s the most important factor. Oddly, Americans also find ethics (which include employee treatment) less important than the reliability of a product or service. (This, despite rating a brand’s treatment of its staff as a key factor in brand trust.)
“Reliability is the key driver of brand trust,” according to the research, “69% say it’s very important brands deliver consistently on what they promise when considering trust.”
Americans also say they care about data privacy and prefer to see “no fine print.”
Jono Bacon, CEO of Jono Bacon Consulting, posits that brands can also build communities and invest in ratings and reviews, like many of the top brands on the Morning Consult list.
And going back to why USPS, started by Benjamin Franklin in 1775, is the most trusted brand in America, the survey finds most of the revered companies have been around quite a long time. The plurality of respondents trusted brands established between 1926 and 1975.
The report states:
“Trust takes time to build: Of the ‘100 Most Trusted Brands,’ just two were founded after 2000.”
Bacon, who is “a community and collaboration strategy expert,” and author of “People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams,” says there’s more to know about this research.
The term “trusted brand” is fundamentally flawed, because trust comes in different forms and synonyms. For example, while people may trust the USPS, they probably don’t particularly care about keeping up with that brand’s news: They are just part-and-parcel of life. On the other hand, brands like Amazon are much more involved in a consumer’s buying choices and interests, because they are constantly evolving and growing. The real issue brands are facing is customers caring enough to remain interested in what they do as opposed to “trust.”
Revisiting Survey Results, With Bacon’s Take on Brand Success
Even though Amazon isn’t No. 1 in Morning Consult’s survey, Bacon thinks the e-tailer has a lot to teach brands:
Amazon has succeeded for three primary reasons.
- Firstly, they have made shipping a no-brainer for most people (which historically was an issue in the early days of e-commerce).
- Secondly, they have built an inventory that is unparalleled in both availability and objective customer reviews that can inform buying decisions.
- Finally, they have built an automated platform, where pricing can be automatically adjusted, based on demand and customer reviews.
This has created both selling and buying platform that has developed a high-level of consumer trust.
Retailers, specifically, may want to revisit their marketing strategies, Bacon says.
More broadly, retail is evolving, driven by consumer access to technology and the changing relationship consumers have with brands. We have seen three eras of retail so far:
- Consumers purchased products from a retailer and only engaged via customer service around transactional issues (e.g. defective product or returns.)
- Consumers became better informed about retailers and their brands via broadcast consumption (e.g. newsletters, advertising, blogging, and social media.)
- Consumers were provided with additive digital and customer services (such as apps, education, videos, and events) but still largely consumptive in nature as opposed to interactive.
I believe we are going to see a fourth era where these additive digital and consumer services are very focused on bringing consumers together in an interactive community ecosystem with these brands. This doesn’t just build brand loyalty, retention, and referrals, but it provides companies with key data about consumer habits and needs, which can be useful for optimizing the retail experience.
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below. Who do you trust?