Golin: Brand relevance trumps trustworthiness in eyes of consumers

A trustworthy brand is great, but a relevant brand is much better to most customers, according to new research from Golin.

CHICAGO: Consumers care more about a brand’s relevance than its trustworthiness, according to a study released by Golin on Tuesday.

The study defines "relevance" as what attracts and keeps people paying attention to what brands have to say and what moves customers to act.

Jesse Dienstag, executive director and head of planning at Golin, noted that the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016 was "post-truth," and the firm has found quantitative and qualitative confirmation that consumers are living in in a post-truth world.

"We are looking for people who are like us, people in our trusted tribe to validate our thoughts and our recommendations," he said.

Popularity, or a product being talked about and recommended by others, drove relevance across all three measured categories: social media, personal banking, and automotive. The study found that social media (59%) and television (57%) consistently ranked first and second above "word of mouth from friends and family" (45%) as the most relevant sources of news and information.

Word of mouth from friends and family is more relevant to women (50%) than men (39%). The top characteristics respondents found relevant were "useful or practical" (54%), "informative" (53%), and "funny" (35%), which beat out other descriptions like "inspiring," "shocking," and "exciting." The study also found that on social media, consumers would rather be entertained than hear the truth.

Golin co-CEO Matt Neale noted that if a brand is trying to change a consumer’s opinion, capture his or her attention, or get someone to act, it should focus on being relevant rather than gaining trust.

"I trust the BBC, but if I am watching it and the content that is appearing on my TV is not relevant to me, then I am going to second screen and be distracted and drawn in by someone else," said Neale. "Marketers cannot ignore this, and they have to get their relevance right first."

Golin’s Global Relevance Review was conducted in partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. The organizations surveyed 13,000 people age 18 and older in 13 markets on four continents to uncover what drives relevance for brands and industries.

As part of the research, Golin also conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of residents in two small towns in the U.S. and U.K., respectively: Seymour, Indiana, and Preston, England.

Residents of both places felt entities such as their governments, residents of big cities, the mainstream media, and major companies were all ignoring small-town people.  

"What we saw in the U.S. election and the Brexit vote was the rise of these populist movements and really giving them an important voice, culturally," said Dienstag. "What we wanted to find out was the implications for our clients and brands."

The study also found that brands are not doing enough to tap into small-town brand loyalty, which can be passed down by generation.

"If brands that are selling to these folks everyday think that they are somehow separate, removed, or different from those suspicions of small-town Americans, they need to think again," said Dienstag. "Folks in small towns know [brands] aren’t trying really hard to engage them. We want to make sure our clients who market to these folks every day are taking the time to think about their needs, lives, values, and aspirations just as much as the top 10 or 15 cities that most market research comes from."

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