Blogger’s Park: Damage control

April 23, 2021 6:45 AM

How can brands win back consumers’ trust?

Trust gets built over time with repetition of ‘expected outcomes’, accruing confidence in the relationshipTrust gets built over time with repetition of ‘expected outcomes’, accruing confidence in the relationship

By N Chandramouli

Sociologists, anthropologists, leaders and marketers have long held that trust is an integral part of any transaction. Trust, a complex multi-dimensional entity, is dependent on the attitudes, perceptions and actions of the trustee (in this case the brand) and the trustor (in this case the consumer). Trust gets built over time with repetition of ‘expected outcomes’, accruing confidence in the relationship. Trust is a living force, and it requires continuous replenishment by the brand.

Although gaining trust is tough, regaining it after losing it is much tougher (as broken hearts would corroborate). This is because the breakdown of trust alters the trustee’s perceptual map calling for painful mental readjustments, making the trust-collapse an intense, emotional experience for the consumer. A trust breakdown can often shatter the consumer’s worldview, and generate feelings similar to when ‘cheated’. This leads to mistrust of the other brands as well.

Regaining trust

The Fortune-Sourav Ganguly and Dabur-Akshay Kumar situation is a classic trust-erosion case, with the brand professing promises based on the ambassador’s attributes. While Sourav promised a healthy heart if one used Fortune oil, Akshay firmly held his fist to his heart and professed that Dabur Chyawanprash helps in protecting against Covid by building immunity. As luck would have it, the former had to go through an angioplasty, and the latter was declared Covid-positive, both while advertisements were on in full swing. However, seeing how differently the two brands handled these challenges shows how trust can be regained.

Fortune’s comeback advertisement addressed the problem directly by getting an endorsement from Sourav and his treating doctor, a prominent name in heart disease treatment. The statement that Sourav made in Fortune’s follow-up ads made a ‘heart’ promise towards a healthier heart, and helped gain back consumer empathy and trust, almost as fast as they were in the danger of losing it. The straightforwardness and candid approach worked for them wonderfully.

In the case of Dabur, little was done after Akshay’s Covid-positive report. The Immunity Pledge that Akshay had taken for Dabur Chyawanprash earlier had crashed like a ton of chyawanprash boxes. The brand was unwilling or unable to come up with a direct communication strategy that might have helped them overcome this challenge. Usually, when brands hire ambassadors for such endorsements, they ought to prepare their own ‘what-if’ scenarios. It looks like Dabur did not have this in place.

Too little, too late

These two are examples of minor trust transgressions, where the brand had little control over the circumstances (other than the post-occurrence action). But there can be very serious trust erosion, especially when combined with institutional action, as it was in the all-too-familiar Maggi case. Test results by a government agency showed banned substances in the popular 2-minute noodle. The brand was belligerent, and showcased international lab tests countering the Indian test claim. Little did they realise that it could have financial repercussions impacting them for the next decade to come. The matter cascaded into Maggi being banned, and by the time the brand got into corrective mode, the damage had been done.

The brand which held more than 90% market share vanished from store shelves. Though Nestlé has regained a substantial part of its lost market share, the monopoly was broken. Today, nearly a dozen brands, ranging from Ching’s to Yippee and Wai Wai, have broken into Maggi’s market, something they were unable to do in the decade before.

Consumer trust is precious and the consumer assumes certain vulnerability by accepting the statements of the brand. If a brand reneges on this trust, consumers will definitely punish it with their wallets.

The author is CEO, TRA Research

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