Big businesses are most affected by today's crisis of trust – so how can beauty's most established names ensure continued consumer trust and affection?
Nick Vaus is Partner & Creative Director at Free the Birds, the brand communication and design agency formerly known as DewGibbons + Partners. Now 21 years old, clients include Bayer, Coty, Davidoff, Lindt, Nestlé and Procter & Gamble – gives the three steps for legacy brands to gain trust.
The world is having a massive trust crisis. Edelman's annual Trust Barometer measures trust levels people have in government, charities, businesses and the media: 2018 showed record levels of distrust. Big businesses are most affected.
An average of 55% of Western consumers distrust large companies compared with 17% for small ones, according to A.T. Kearney.
As an independent agency, we increasingly hear from our clients that they love the direct accountability they get from us. No consulting with faceless bureaucrats – the buck literally stops in the room.
The growing preference for independent businesses will come as zero surprise to anyone in the beauty business, of course. NPD Group finds indie brands accounted for 55% of the growth in prestige beauty in 2017; McKinsey & Co that colour cosmetics indies grew four times faster than legacy brands.
Digital has mown down barriers to entry, but it's not just that; indies are more personal. Successful ones have unique product, ingredient and founder stories, or an explicit social or environmental purpose, backed up with engaging marketing and customer experience.
Sometimes the founders participate on social media, going the extra mile for great customer service. Like us, they have the power to act and turn on a sixpence if something goes wrong. They're not faceless. They can be trusted.
Does this mean that big legacy brands are all doomed? Of course not. They're legacy brands precisely because they've delivered quality products over many years.
But they're going to have to do things very differently in future to (re)build trust:
1. Time for total transparency
If it ever was a good idea, trying to hide what's really going on inside a brand is simply not possible, particularly with indies being bought up left, right and centre. Seed Phytonutrients (pictured below), a fantastic spin-off from L'Oréal with impeccable eco credentials, doesn't shout about its ownership – even if L'Oréal should surely be proud of creating something so revolutionary.
Apart from ownership, full transparency (about the supply chain, customer reviews, employee/inclusion policies and more) is a must. There's often a reticence with big brands not to talk about their actual sustainability successes, for example, because they still have a journey to travel. But consumers are not looking for perfection, rather honesty and a sense of direction. McDonald's is a great example of transparency at scale with its 'Our food. Your questions' campaign.
Legacy brands need to stand for something over and above a great priced product
2. Keep it simple
Trust is also gained via consumers knowing exactly what they're buying. Research from Gartner found the single biggest factor making consumers 'sticky' to products (buying it repeatedly and recommending to others) was 'decision simplicity' – how easily they can get trustworthy information and weigh up options.
With apps like Think Dirty making it easy to check ingredients in an instant, brands need to really consider what's in the bottle.
This means reviewing formulations, swapping out potentially harmful synthetic ingredients for natural ones and aiming for certifications like Leaping Bunny to make it even simpler, and then being ruthlessly clear on-pack and with product information. As Sarah Brown of Pai Skincare puts it: "Listing ingredients in plain English, not using pseudoscience… generally presenting things as they are, warts and all."
3. Tell a true story
This is the bit that many legacy brands struggle with. Without a founder driving things, it's far harder to articulate and communicate a brand story and purpose that's really authentic. And people care: 78% of consumers expect beauty brands to act ethically, notes Mintel.
Ironically, despite the trust issues, big businesses can make the greatest social and environmental impacts due to their sheer size.
Brands must revisit their purpose, take action and demonstrate the results, putting their money where their mouth is.
Trust isn't gained from a short term fix. It's built on long term consistency. Dove has been talking about 'Real Beauty' since 2004. Legacy brands all need to stand for something way over and above a great priced product to win this battle.