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How to build trust and accelerate brand growth in 2019

In 2018, fake news, food fraud and fees for no service brought the issue of trust well into the spotlight.

While much of the attention was directed towards the financial services sector, for those working in the food sector it’s a familiar issue.

Low levels of trust have been plaguing the industry for years with research by Deloitte showing consumer trust of the food industry ranks 3.4 times lower than a cross-industry average.

It’s clear that while in the past, people were willing to believe the food they were buying and eating was safe, nutritious and sourced from a food system that could be trusted, this is no longer the case. The challenge this poses is that low levels of trust drive indecision, uncertainty and lack of brand engagement. Trust is one of a business’s most important assets as without it, it is difficult to build a following of loyal consumers.

While low levels of trust are a challenge, gaining or rebuilding trust also provides an opportunity. This is particularly applicable for well established brands experiencing a deceleration in profit and growth. While we often hear that being more transparent is a way to build trust, and this is an important pathway, a complimentary strategy that can accelerate progress is to work on being more meaningful.

Research by Havas Media Group found that brands that were considered more meaningful outperformed the stock market by 206 per cent over a 10-year period. They also obtained nine times the share of a consumer’s wallet and were more likely to meet other business KPI’s such as the ability to charge a premium price, a positive impression of the brand and increased brand advocacy.

Meaningful brands were found to be those that not only meet our functional needs, but also demonstrate they have an impact on the collective well being of society. Making a difference to areas considered important to society is one way to create shared value, which in turn builds brand trust.

Having an impact on collective well being means looking outward, maintaining awareness of the issues that matter to people and in doing so, seeking opportunities to demonstrate that a business cares about these same things. For those working in the food sector, a congruent way to do this is to direct our attention towards the food related problems that are on consumers’ minds.

Stop selling food and start solving problems

Taking the business focus off selling food and redirecting it towards solving food related problems is one way to adopt an outward looking focus. This often requires a change of mindset. Paradoxically, however, this can galvanise teams, improve company culture and ultimately lead to better long term sales. For example, data from Unilever shows their sustainable living brands delivered 70 per cent of the company’s turnover growth and grew 46 per cent faster than the rest of the business in 2017.

Research also shows that 79 per cent of millennials want to buy ethical brands – that is, brands they trust and feel good about – and that 73 per cent are willing to pay more. Consumers show greater loyalty to brands that are genuine and authentic and can demonstrate good intentions – around producing foods that contribute to better health and well being, but also around making a positive impact in relation to social and environmental factors. The impact of food production on personal and planetary health, animal welfare, food safety, ethical production, distribution and country of origin are all influencing consumers’ food purchasing decisions.

Communicating through values is three to five times more effective at building trust than communicating facts alone, indicating that values clearly matter. However, so does responsibility. In 2019, trust will be built not only on looking outwards to make a difference through shared values, but also through businesses taking greater levels of responsibility for what they say and do.

Take Radical Responsibility

All food businesses, no matter what size, have the power to influence. This influence comes in the form of the impact food composition has on people’s health, the impact food sourcing, packaging and distribution has on the environment and the way advertising and marketing of food influences people’s behaviour. As Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”. If we don’t take responsibility, we can become a victim of the circumstances.

Responsibility means making a commitment to following the rules. Radical responsibility, however, means not only following the rules, but creating them. In this way, trust can be gained while risk can be reduced.

While solving problems and taking radical responsibility will create meaning for a brand, this can only be leveraged if consumers are aware of a company’s commitments and actions. This means creating a platform on which a brand can effectively speak out and be heard.

Amplify Your Voice

A noisy and increasingly fragmented market with greater competition is making it difficult to be heard and more challenging for brands to stand out. However, to effectively build trust a brand’s
voice needs to be heard. To cut through the clutter, messages need to be meaningful and this comes from solving problems.

If a brand is taking a stand in an area that contributes to the collective well being of society, it has the integrity to speak up about issues and areas that create shared values with consumers.
Complementing this with genuine spokespeople, those who have the expertise and credibility to communicate, is an effective path forward. We are starting to see evidence of this in the market.

Emmanuel Faber, Danone CEO, tweets about the challenge of plastics and the food revolution the company is leading. Harris Farm Markets speak out about supporting local farmers and buying fruit and veg in season because they are committed to “the greater goodness”. These issues can be communicated with integrity if they truly reflect a company’s values – values that are outwardly focused rather than inwardly directed.

This opportunity lies at the feet of those willing to lead change and in doing so, create future business resilience, reignite levels of trust and, overall, build long terms sales and consumer loyalty.

Sharon Natoli is an advisor in the food and beverage industry and author of Food for a Better Future. 

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