While the marketing industry continues to debate the challenges of a cookie-free future and the value of attention metrics, it’s easy to forget what really matters to people when it comes to brand choice.

BrewDog learnt the hard way recently when a group of ex-employees blasted the craft beer firm for its terrible company culture. Before them, the Boohoo boycott shined a light on unethical and unsustainable manufacturing standards. These high-profile fallouts are a timely reminder that a brand’s credentials go way beyond just their product or service offering.

the7stars’ quarterly tracker (The QT) has monitored consumer sentiment and intent since 2016. The most recent 12 months, including the pandemic and lockdown that followed, brought about a significant shift in how people are feeling about life and their intentions towards brand consumption. Trust, it turns out, is high on the agenda.

7 in 10 Brits agree that trusting a brand is more important to them now than in the past.  Overtaking traditional rational considerations of quality and value, our data reveals the current top drivers of brand choice to have tilted into the emotional spectrum, towards trust-related metrics.  60% agreed that, over the past year, the feeling of ‘being put first’ by a brand had become more significant. People want to be treated like people – not like a body of consumers or a data point. It might seem minor, but it’s a big deal in terms of the sentiment and positioning that brands have an opportunity to get right.

If reputation is a codeword for trust, 2 in 3 Brit’s agreed that it became more important during the pandemic.  In turbulent times, people rely on safe bets, spending money with brands that promise to meet their expectations.  Amongst 18-34-year-olds, ‘knowing what to expect’ was cited as the top driver of brand trust.

On the flipside, being seen as a ‘category leader’ and having ‘brand heritage’ were the two least important drivers of brand choice, as people favour a more relatable human experience with brands they want to consume.

This desire for human connection was confirmed by the 8 in 10 who cited a positive response to the pandemic as another deciding factor in brand choice, and by the 1 in 3 who changed their shopping behaviours accordingly, whether that response was supportive of customers or staff.

So how can brands build trust?  Start from within.  Whether it’s a commitment to becoming a net zero company or being a vocal anti-racist advocate in your industry, people respond to brands that exemplify a more inclusive and responsible ethos, one embedded within company culture. Next, build on existing assets: authenticate your trust credentials by remaining true to the core values of a brand proposition and its communications. Finally, remember to adapt. The cultural landscape continues to evolve at pace, which provides an opportunity to build better relationships with the audiences we’re trying to engage.  As their world evolves, so too should a brand respond to what really matters: be helpful, be kind, be wise – and ensure trust metrics remain relevant.

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