Honesty is Key for Brands Looking to Emerge Amid Political Strife

BY: Andrew Pelosi | President MERGE Boston

PUBLISHED: 8/12/2019

Honesty is Key

You don’t have to look far these days to see the fallout from political volatility. The stock markets are wavering and consumer confidence is off from recent highs. Call it a crisis of trust. When governments are plagued by chaos and uncertainty, people tend to lose faith in public institutions.


The public has been steadily losing faith in institutions for three decades. But today, we’re seeing that cynicism creep beyond government at an accelerated pace. Multiple studies over the past several years show that trust in brands has fallen to shocking lows, particularly in the United States. Luckily for marketers, this also creates an opportunity.


A majority of Americans now cite integrity and honesty as the characteristics that most influence their trust in brands, according to our newly released 2019 MERGE Industry Trust Study. Given the current environment, simply acting honestly and dealing fairly with people throughout the end-to-end customer experience can go a long way towards earning good will.


Of course, that’s easier said than done.

What drives trust?

To better navigate that path, it helps to understand what consumers are focused on. For the 2019 MERGE Industry Trust Study, first conducted in 2015, we chose to concentrate on five distinct industries: health insurance, retail walk-in clinics, consumer banking, wealth management and auto manufacturing.


To gauge perceptions of those industries, we surveyed a demographically representative sample of 2,729 people across the U.S. and developed questions based on the three pillars of Trust Theory:


- Ability (skill and/or product quality)

- Integrity (a record of honest, transparent and accurate communication)

- Benevolence (behaving with the consumers’ best interests at heart)


The results? Integrity emerged as the single most important driver of consumer trust in 4 of the 5 industries. And, it wasn’t even close as noted below.

  • Health insurance industry, integrity accounted for 54% of consumer trust, followed by ability at 38%.
  • Wealth management, integrity accounted for 60% of trust, followed by benevolence at 32%.
  • Retail walk-in clinics, integrity came in at 57%, followed by benevolence at 26%.
  • Integrity accounted for a whopping 63% of trust in banking, followed by benevolence at 23%.
  • Carmakers, consumers place the most importance on product quality (41%), but only slightly less on integrity (37%.)

Drilling down, it was honesty that emerged as the single greatest attribute driving perceptions of integrity. Overall, we looked at 16 different attributes across our three pillars, and among those, honesty had the strongest influence on creating a sense of trust in the wealth management industry (40%), compared to banking (26%) and walk-in clinics (23%)

An honest brand

So, given these results, how do you create a perception of honesty? There are some obvious answers: Avoid exaggerated claims, set—then strive to exceed expectations. Be responsive and accommodating on whatever platform your customers choose to connect with you. But at the cost of appearing dishonest, it’s worth taking time to bulletproof all aspects of your brand experience.


You can do this by: Analyzing your customer journey to explore every point of contact, making sure you understand the type of engagement and messages being delivered at every touchpoint.


Ensure the value exchange is equitable whenever you collect PHI, PII or ancillary data which may be used to shape future personalization. Make sure to always convey any bad news—a data breach, a product recall, disappointing results—quickly and clearly. Take ownership of any problems that arise, and take pains to never appear to be passing the buck - painful as it may be.


It may be tempting to write off intangibles like trust, integrity and honesty as perceptions that are only tangentially related to sales, but our findings suggest otherwise. Among our respondents, trust was highly correlated with metrics such as brand commitment, satisfaction, likelihood to recommend and intention to buy again.


As the public increasingly views brands with skepticism, it’s more important than ever to show your brand is worthy of trust. Fostering a positive customer experience is a solid prescription for any business."