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The dangerous power of distrust and unpredictability for brands

Michele Levine is a self-confessed “maths and stats girl”.

So it’s hardly surprising that the CEO of Roy Morgan Research finds data “dangerously addictive”.

“As CEO I often have to temper my natural inclination of being a researcher and get focused on being commercial, it’s something I still have to balance out today.”

Levine “walked in and never left” Roy Morgan Research and has seen it grow and become a go to resource for agencies and brands looking for a cutting edge.

It’s single source database has 65-thousand interviews with Australians, delivering real time key insights on what they’re thinking on politics, the economy, spending, consumer goods and other emerging trends.

Unpredictability gives brands an opportunity to strut their stuff

Levine has observed that economic or environmental unpredictability can be an opportunity for brands to demonstrate their worth.

“When times are unpredictable, consumers look at trusted brands they don’t need to think much about too much like Bunnings; people rely on reputation and trust.

“But when there is instability from something like a cyber-attack, as a population, we all respond with horror. If a brand is trusted and does something wrong like loses your data, we just become really shocked.

“The banks were able to step up and help people during COVID. After the Royal Commission, they saw an opportunity to do right thing.

“Supermarkets went extra mile during COVID. So unpredictability gives brands an opportunity to strut their stuff.”

It’s always been a matter of trust – but what about distrust

Levine says Roy Morgan has adapted to changing needs from agencies and major corporations.

An example was Roy Morgan introducing research on trust and distrust.

It followed the major banks pointing to very high net promoter scores, where people liked the banks’ products and services.

Yet at the same time bank bashing was according to Levine “Australia’s favourite past time”.

“We started to ask which brands people trust and distrust and then asked them why.

“The reasons for distrust can a whole lot more powerful than trust. They can be because of lying, greed, cheating or greenwashing. Distrust can be intergenerational – “they put my grandfather off the land”.

“Companies are looking seriously at their right to operate, based on trust but more critically distrust.

“If you look at Optus, distrust flared immediately after their cybersecurity breach. Distrust can have an incredibly real and material impact.”

Have a social conscience but don’t paint a picture that’s not real

Levine says big companies have been focused on corporate social responsibility since the early 1990s but cautions business needs to make it relevant to their product or risk it being seen as spin or marketing.

“It’s great if you have a real story, a believable narrative as opposed to a cool bit of spin.

“If it’s a current brand that’s doing good things, advertising communicates that.

“Some companies take social conscience really seriously and put trust and distrust on their company risk register.”

The customer is always right except when they’re…

Levine uses the example of Toyota as a good example of seeking to understand rejection from consumers who said they’d never buy a Toyota car.

“When they first came to Australia, the feedback was really negative. People said they wouldn’t buy a tinny, Japanese car.

“But Toyota quietly and systematically sought to understand the rejection.

“They’ve quietly gone about disproving that and look where they are today.”

The Future of Facebook and the Wild West

While distrust can lead to consumers switching brands, it’s harder to do in some circumstances.

“Facebook is really distrusted and yet people keep using them.

“If you can go somewhere else to get same thing it’s a really fragile brand.

“But something like Facebook is just a way of life. People know the backstory but still use it for specific reasons.”

Levine believes the future of Facebook and other social media companies is still to be determined.

“I hope that Facebook (and others) will continue to improve the way it operates.

“I still think the internet is still like the wild west. People still say the internet solves more problems than it causes but feel social media has brought more problems than it solves.

“I hope Facebook and others will learn to navigate and learn to treat with respect their customers and the world will be a happier place.”


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