Can we use people's stories to turn trust into action?

In times of crisis, people choose trusted brands. Can we leverage people’s stories, using advances in AI, to understand how to turn customer trust into action when it matters most?
23 July 2020
Women on swings
Ansie Lombaard

Senior Global Innovation Director, South Africa


Consultant, Global Innovation, South Africa

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During a crisis, people seek reassurance and certainty. One way through which people navigate such severe upheaval is by turning to trusted brands. In this context, trust delivers “both reassurance and an easy rationale for brand choices,” according to our 2020 BrandZTM Global Top 100 Report. Brands with strong trust credentials offer one less thing to think and worry about. It removes the cognitive load and offers an easy path to meet people’s needs in a way that matters to them now.

Yet do we have a clear idea of how trust translates into practice? What does it really mean to people? How do they articulate their needs? And how can brands activate against such a broad concept?

Kantar’s new Conversational AI for Brand Guidance offer is designed to answer questions like these.

When we really want to understand people, it makes sense, then, that we turn to their stories. Stories bring understanding, empathy, and community. Stories bring us together. When we leverage today’s technology platforms for modern day storytelling, we can collect micro-stories at scale. By combining our understanding of how stories unfold with advances in artificial intelligence, it becomes possible to collect and study such stories in a way that gives us a new understanding of people.

We can do this by using chatbots that are designed to let people tell their stories about a category and the brands they use. We leverage the platforms, such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat, that they are already familiar with, that are personal to them, and where they are already used to sharing their micro-stories.

Through the art of conversation, combined with advances in artificial intelligence, we create an intelligent, adaptive dialogue that helps us to generate deeper insight into the areas that matter to the brand, while also surfacing what really matters to the people we engage in this way. This allows us to collect micro-stories, with extraordinary richness and context, at scale.

Based on the hundreds of micro-stories we have seen unfold in this way, we know that such stories hold the potential to bring us much closer to the human side of brand growth. One such example is a recent study in Spain, where we spoke to almost 400 shoppers about what is important to them when they shop for clothing, food, books or technology. We focused on a well-known and well-established retailer brand, El Corte Ingles. Between 2019 and 2020, our BrandZ results show that this retailer saw exceptional growth in brand power, its ability to generate demand, and more specifically in terms of difference, one of the BrandZ key pillars of brand equity.

Through our analysis of the stories people shared with our bot, trust emerged as an important part of the secret to this brand’s unprecedented success during the pandemic.

Trust is experience-based. “Trust grows when you have no problems with your order, and everything is correct and when you are treated really well as a customer.” The way people spoke about trust helped us to develop a far more nuanced understanding of what trust means to them, in a way that stands to empower other brands to turn trust into practice amidst a pandemic:

Trust in quality

Trust is about being able to make a purchase without any doubt that the product will deliver against your expectations. “Trust is about offering me products that are of quality, of well-known brands that have good reviews or comments.” In the context of the pandemic, this sense of certainty and safety is important. Reducing the risk of making the wrong decision – or worse, having to go to the trouble of returning a purchase – makes the choice to shop at El Corte Ingles an easier one. “They are safe purchases with respect to their quality and it is important to me, because I save myself a lot of trouble when it comes to not having to make changes because the items always meet my expectations.”

Trust in service

Good service is about being able to depend on the retailer to deliver when promised and to provide post-purchase support if necessary. “My orders arrived on the day we agreed. I even bought a washing machine online and the service has been very fast and comfortable, without leaving home.” A large appliance represents a significant purchase. Being able to trust that if something goes wrong, the retailer will be there to support you, speaks to the reassurance that a brand can give in uncertain times. Swift problem resolution and immediate hassle-free returns are similarly important. When something goes wrong, people in distress do not have the capacity to deal with more problems. In that moment, they need to be able to depend on the retailer’s integrity to quickly step in to resolve it every time. “The confidence that El Corte Ingles gives me is everything, because it always solves the problems that may arise, and I am always given the best option.” Such positive service experiences strengthen trust and deepen affinity.

Trust in value for money

In times of economic distress, it is often assumed that people will become more price-sensitive and trade down to cheaper brands. While it is true that people may be forced to buy cheaper alternatives, that does not mean that they will do so blindly; they still want to feel that their money is well spent. El Corte Ingles is seen as having offered this kind of reassurance by taking into account people’s situation now. “If you need a product of a certain quality now, they offer it to you without interest and with free insurance for three months.” This reflects an understanding that affordable quality matters and is best combined with simplicity. “They are constantly offering offers and the financing conditions are quite comfortable and simple compared to others.”

In times of crisis and upheaval, trust fortifies difference. For El Corte Ingles trust helped it to differentiate in a way that matters to people now, that speaks to their need for certainty and assurance in a time of exceptional upheaval. It actively, reliably and consistently created positive experiences of trust, building a sense of appreciation and confidence for the brand. In return, these actions have helped the brand to show extraordinary growth amidst the pandemic.

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