Trust Put to the COVID-19 Test

Trust Put to the COVID-19 Test

Back in January 2019, iProspect released its Future Focus annual report featuring the Search for Trust in the Digital Economy as the central theme. The research presented in this report clearly demonstrated that in the digital economy, trust was not an issue, it was the issue: 88% of marketers declared trust would be a priority in 2019, 76% stated trust was important to keep consumers buying their brand, and 72% believed brands should be socially active and vocal about their actions.


Trust Equation


Our research underlined the three key components of our “Trust Equation” for measuring trust.

- Credibility: the much-needed compass in the Age of Doubt

- Relevance: the key factor to emerge in the Age of Noise

- Reliability: the token of quality in the Age of Convenience


Trust = Credibility + Relevance + Reliability


Now, fifteen months later, trust could hardly be more crucial. Although we all long to resume our pre-pandemic lives, 4.5 billion of us are still confined in our homes. Misinformation about COVID-19 is so prevalent that the World Health Organization had to warn against the “Infodemic” risk in its situation report. And as we are more dependent on online services for communications (Microsoft Teams has now more than 44 million daily active users), entertainment ( sessions increased by 19.7% in two months) and replenishment, the reliability of IT infrastructure and last-mile delivery logistics has been challenged at unprecedented levels.


In this uncertain context, trust is paramount for brands to preserve their customer relationships and to attract new consumers to their products and services. In this article, we will showcase some insightful initiatives brands took in response to the pandemic to support their customers and maintain consumer trust in their brands.





In the Trust Equation, we defined Credibility as the capacity to be perceived as competent and legitimate. In the context of the pandemic particularly, it is critical for companies to be clearly identified as sources of truth. This is not limited to brand communications: in these difficult times, corporate decisions affecting employees, general public, shareholders and public bodies are also closely monitored by customers and play an important part in the company’s perceived credibility.


First and foremost, credibility is about providing helpful advice to consumers, as demonstrated by the security software specialist Kaspersky, which provides clear actionable tips for people to protect themselves from cybercriminals when they are the most vulnerable. Credibility also involves dispelling harmful misinformation spreading on social platforms, as illustrated by the recent clarification by Reckitt Benckiser about improper usages of their products (Lysol and Dettol).





In times of crisis, signalling is also particularly important for credibility, and we see many brands stepping up their game to help consumers make the right decisions for themselves. It can be about pointing users to the right content, for instance, Google added a ‘teacher approved’ section to its app store for apps vetted by a panel of 200+ teachers across the United States, so that parents can easily find quality educational apps for their children. Signallig can be about making it easier for users to signal themselves, too. The dating app Bumble added the option for users open to virtual dates to let others know through a badge.

 Trust Put to the COVID-19 Test



Credibility can take many forms. In the insurance industry where trust is essential, we see many brands returning value to customers who may not need all the insurance products at the moment. For instance, as people are driving less due to the confinement measures, and as car insurance premiums are established on the likelihood of accidents, insurers like State Farm have announced they will automatically give policy credits to most customers. Other brands have taken steps to not only support the end users of their products, but also other stakeholders of their industry. For instance, SoundCloud, a multi-sided platform that connects creators and listeners, has announced specific actions to support creators through increased promotion of their work, free of charge.  





Credibility alone isn’t sufficient for creating trust. In our Trust Equation, we defined Relevance as the capacity to resonate with consumers. In the attention economy, consumers expect individually tailored solutions, accessible when and where they want them. In the context of confinement, relevance includes brands finding ways to bring value in the daily monotony, helping their customers entertaining themselves or their kids, being more productive, staying healthy and simply fulfilling basic needs.


Credibility can take the form of new content or services that provide people with relevant support through relevant channels. For instance, Netflix has launched a new series on Instagram Live to discuss challenges teenagers face during the health crisis and starring cast members of young adult series available on the platform. In India, Mexico, Japan and Brazil, Amazon customers can check their symptoms or their risk level at home through their Alexa-compatible devices, which source information directly from local health authorities. As many large gatherings have been cancelled for the rest of 2020, Fortnite is recreating live concerts in its virtual world. From April 23 to April 25, the platform transformed into a live venue for an exclusive concert of the hip-hop artist Travis Scott, attracting more than 12 million viewers. And when people do need to go outside, brands like Lush provide them with new services. In the UK, the brand lets anyone wash their hands in-store for free.






For many companies, relevance in times of crisis also means supporting health and essential workers. However, genuine association is important so that it can provide real value to the workers. In the UK, the beauty brand UpCircle Beauty has been offering workers from the National Health Service some care packages, which they can easily request through a simple form. In France, Doctolib, a scheduling service for health practitioners, has waived fees for doctors to use the virtual consultation service, and in doing so, helped reduce the pressure on hospitals. In Italy, physicians partnered with Isinnova, a technology startup that turns a snorkeling mask into a ventilator. The sporting goods retailer manufacturing the original mask, Decathlon, immediately provided technical assistance and since then have withdrawn their masks from sale so they can donate them. Brands without a genuine association connecting what they offer in normal times and the immediate needs of health and essential workers should be very cautious venturing into initiatives far-fetched from their core competency, which could be perceived as opportunistic.





The last variable of the Trust equation is Reliability, which we define as the capacity to provide an experience that consistently and conveniently meets customer expectation during every interaction with a brand. A brand can be seen as an expert and be highly relevant in the eyes of consumers, but if its website loads slowly, a package is lost, or the payment crashes mid-transaction, consumers won’t fully trust this brand for their purchases. In the context of the pandemic where people need to be reassured, it is important for brands to be transparent about what they can and cannot do, to not overpromise and to find alternative ways to keep serving their customers.


For many brands, it starts with relieving customers from worries associated with deliveries and returns. For instance, Office Depot has updated their return policy as follows: “For the health and safety of our associates and customers, Office Depot and OfficeMax stores have stopped accepting returns or exchanges of any product through May 3rd. We realize you may have returns that expire during this period, so we’re extending the normal return deadline by two weeks to accommodate your needs.” Through simple terms, the company explains the reason behind their decision and provides clear steps for customers. To cope with additional demand, Amazon has decided to put new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods delivery and pickup customers on invitation-based waitlists, has reserved the first hour of pickup delivery for shoppers 60 years and older, and announced a new feature allowing customers to secure time to shop through a virtual “place in line.” In Singapore, KFC offers both contactless delivery and contactless takeaway options in an effort to alleviate consumers’ sanitation concerns.


Reliability also means minimising disruptions for consumers. To do so, some brands are rethinking their product launch calendar. Disney released Frozen 2 to Disney+ three months ahead of schedule to help parents keep their children entertained. Others reflect upon logistics to support solidarity: Walmart and Nextdoor announced the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” partnership through which Nextdoor members can now request assistance – or offer to help someone in their community – with shopping for their essential items at Walmart. This initiative helps vulnerable people coordinate the pickup of their groceries with a neighbor who is already planning a trip to their local store.


Industries such as Hospitality have been hit particularly hard b
y confinement measures. However, brands like Hilton have found ways to indirectly keep serving their customers: DoubleTree by Hilton has shared the official bake-at-home recipe for the brand’s chocolate chip cookie. Similar initiatives from IKEA in the UK (Swedish meatball recipe) or Burger King in France (instructions for homemade Whopper) have been launched. Although they will never replace the experience that goes alongside the originals, these little attentions demonstrate situational awareness and care from these brands in these challenging times for their customers.




Consumer trust will be one of the keys to recovery

Now more than ever, it is fundamental for brands to deliver against each component of the Trust Equation - Credibility, Relevance and Reliability – if they are to hold consumer confidence for the short term and the long term.


Nurturing trust is a constant endeavour, yet one that can be derailed in a fraction of a second. This is especially true in the digital age, where social platforms act as catalysts for spreading information, and search engines are permanent collective memory. However, the company that demonstrates integrity in its intent and transparency in its actions will be able to build trust with its customers in the long term. Through it all, clear, timely communications play a vital role in earning and keeping consumer trust.

Those brands that are grounded in credibility, relevance, and reliability will be well positioned for faster recovery in the months and years ahead.




iProspect constantly monitors the impact on COVID-19 on brands and work with partners to support clients with the most up-to-date actions to ensure business continuity.