Deleted social apps. Home remedies. Ingredient bans. These are symptoms of the record low levels of trust Americans have in their institutions. Now the impact has spread beyond the media and government. Americans view companies, brands and traditional experts with less implicit trust that they once did. In fact, fewer than half of Americans say they have a high level of trust in businesses, according to the 2017 Ipsos Global Trends Survey.
Their declining confidence has changed the directions of entire product categories or sectors and shifted influence from brands to bloggers, the crowd, and social networks. Nearly three in five Americans only trust recommendations from people they know. Two-thirds of Americans trust recommendations from social sites they know.
With the advent of digital and social connections, anyone can seem like an expert. Today, brands no longer control the categories in which they compete. Marketers who listen to consumers and their new influencers can thrive in this new environment. Those who don’t, risk losing relevance. Some categories have adapted well.
Social influencers change the conversation
Historically, large manufacturers and professionals drove the beauty industry; think hair stylists and make-up artists. More recently, consumers second-guess brands on the efficacy or safety of their ingredients. For example, the online community of curly-haired consumers and influencers rather than large manufacturers drove the momentum behind the silicone-free hair care movement. This contributed to the growth of small brands, like SheaMoisture and Kinky-Curly, and forced larger brands to follow. Now, beauty bloggers spur hair and make-up trends as a go-to source of information and tutorials. As one beauty consumer taking part in an Ipsos qualitative study put it, “YouTube makes you feel like you can do anything.”
Beauty brands that have embraced this shift are winning. They meet the consumer where she is, listening for emerging needs and partnering with the beauty bloggers who shape habits. Emily Weiss, blogger and founder of cult beauty brand Glossier, told CNN that she considers her customers influencers. “The brands of the future are going to be co-created,” she said.
Healthcare brands not exempt
Patients increasingly challenge healthcare professionals on everything from common illnesses to vaccinations. Three of four of U.S. adults claim to always try to find healthcare information on their own, “rather than just relying on what my doctor tells me,” in the 2017 Ipsos Global Trends survey. That’s made a coffee mug stating, “Please do not confuse your Google search with my Medical Degree” a popular gift in doctors’ offices across the country.
“A number of people outright rejected what they saw as current, mainstream mental health approaches in a recent ethnographic study,” says Ipsos anthropologist Liza Walworth. “They would much rather examine what is causing their depression or anxiety and either make changes or learn to cope, rather than rely upon a pharmaceutical ‘crutch.’” At the same time, people are turning to alternative medicines and diets to boost their health.
Millennials have flocked to essential oils to cure everything from stress to the flu. Spurred by health and beauty blogs, essential oil company Vitruvi became the first such brand to be offered at Nordstrom
Consumers drive changes in food and beverage brands
Similarly, food and beverage manufacturers have seen consumer movements against specific brand ingredients. “Before trying new foods – even for pets! – some consumers will check online for bloggers and key sites or apps to help them determine whether the food is safe, says Susan Malloy, an Ipsos qualitative research strategist. “These influencers are so powerful that consumers will vow ‘never’ to try foods that wind up on the ‘bad list.’”
Successful manufacturers also addressed consumer concerns about the “no-nos” – artificial ingredients, flavors, colors, GMOs – to avoid being left out of the shopping cart. In 2015, consumers urged food companies to “clean up” their products with more natural ingredients. Even iconic products can evolve. Kraft removed artificial preservatives, flavors and food coloring from its macaroni & cheese months before advertising it to satisfy a growing consumer need.
Consumers make it clear who and what is important to them. Companies who listen will earn back their trust.