In the midst of the pandemic and wide-spread social justice upheaval, consumers are paying close attention to how brands are responding. They want to know which brands they can trust to address the public health and societal challenges we face today.

In Canada, consumers are aligning with or avoiding brands based on the businesses’ responses to the pandemic. Brands need to be consistent in showcasing their commitment to combating against the global pandemic while also demonstrating their authentic stance on social justice issues in order to build and sustain credibility with their audience. However, trust is not only built upon such actions; it is equally important how brands gain credibility with both internal and external stakeholders.  

Trust is earned

Findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report show that people cite personal experiences, earned media, and peer conversations as top reasons for trusting a brand. At the bottom of the list are paid and owned media. 

Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020

Amid crises, consumers rely even more on word-of-mouth, subject matter experts and trusted brand ambassadors for information on a brand. While paid and owned media may have certain benefits, such as reach and convenience, these avenues may resonate less with consumers. Buyers value authenticity.  

Authentic relationships count

Earned media strategies, such as media relations and social media campaigns, connect brands with customers through storytelling built on the brand’s identity. Consumers are not simply looking at product quality anymore. They are interested in the brand story behind the product. When consumers resonate with a story, they are more likely to organically choose that brand. 

It is equally important how the story is told. Increasingly, consumers are avoiding marketing and advertising through technology or habit. Consumers are weary of being sold. What they want to know is the human experience with a brand. Through news stories, social media mentions, peers and other non-paid means, consumers get a genuine narrative from credible and/ or personal sources. 

Earned media invites third-party input into the communications mix which adds this credibility. Paid advertising and owned content are perceived by consumers as biased. Brands with paid-only campaigns can turn to public relations to bridge the gap in earned coverage. Public relations practitioners connect brands with journalists, editors, reporters, influencers, and other media – the result of which is a credible story. 

Ultimately, earned media strategies are based on relationships. Building and maintaining media relations is key in obtaining quality coverage. Alignment between brand and media will help with crafting authentic messaging and reaching target audiences. 

Consumer behaviour is complex

Consumers are sophisticated and have evolving decision-making systems when evaluating a brand or product. In the age of mass digital marketing, consumers search for reliable sources of information in their purchasing decisions. They turn to online platforms to seek out brand validation: product and company reviews on Google, word of mouth on social marketplace groups, and ratings on different consumer evaluation apps. Consumers are not expecting 5-star ratings, but any negative rating does add towards a more legitimate representation of the product.   

Trust is earned, not bought. For brands, paid and native advertising increases awareness but trust is built through earned media where authenticity is found.