Highly Connected but Increasingly Suspicious, Global Study Reveals ‘Consumer Trust Divide’ for Brands Online

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Today’s connected world is driving a ‘consumer trust divide’ between suspicious minds in developed nations and more accepting attitudes in emerging countries, reveals Kantar TNS’s latest Connected Life research.

  • 25% of connected consumers in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) consider the content brands post on social media irrelevant
  • Only one in four connected consumers (25%) in Saudi Arabia are concerned about social networks’ control of what users see in their feeds
  • 30% of connected consumers in the UAE are concerned about the level of personal data brands have on them

The research, which surveyed 70,000 people across 56 countries and conducted 104 in-depth interviews, explored consumer trust in brands in relation to four themes: technology, content, data, and e-commerce.

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The findings show that while European and US consumers’ trust in brands is being undermined by the poor deployment of advertising and content, consumers in countries across Asia, Middle East and Africa, in contrast, appear to be embracing brand content and messaging though concerns on privacy remain.

The findings also show that many consumers are choosing privacy over convenience, preferring a greater say in decisions that impact them even if that means compromising on speed or ease: 35% of consumers in Saudi Arabia and 39% in UAE object to connected devices monitoring their activities even it makes their lives easier.

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The research also reveals that mistrust is prevalent in many markets, but that it is not universal. While just 9% of Swedish consumers consider the content they see on social media reliable, half of online users in MEA trust the information they consume on social media.

Trust in large global brands varies significantly between emerging and developed markets: in Saudi Arabia and UAE, half of online population (50% and 47% respectively) trust big global brands, but consumer trust falls significantly in developed markets like the USA and France, where just 21% and 15%, respectively, trust big global brands.

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Commenting on the findings, Stephen Hillebrand, CEO, Kantar Insights Middle East & North Africa said:

“In our connected world, the notion of ‘truth’ has come under increasing pressure. Given this, the default for many consumers is suspicion, not acceptance. The level of suspicion differs starkly depending on where you are in the world. In developed countries, the erosion of trust has been much more dramatic – driven by consumer experience with new technology, online content, usage of personal data, and ecommerce. In contrast, overall trust levels in Middle East & Africa are relatively high – giving regional brands an opportunity.”

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“Today, all companies are challenged by the key question of how can they build and maintain trust and authenticity in this rapidly-changing world. Trust is one of the most profound consumer beliefs regarding the efficacy and reliability of a brand, and takes significant time to cultivate. Among the most valuable brands in the world, higher trust levels equate with higher brand values, proving that trust is a crucial ingredient in brand success.

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“Online users in UAE and Saudi Arabia trust new technologies and brand content on social media. This is reflected in their willingness to embrace new things and express themselves freely. However, when it comes to sharing personal data, they still have concerns and expect to get something in return. In developed countries like the US and Canada, consumers demands are higher still and expect brands to demonstrate that they know them, and to deliver personalised customer experiences.

“Across our region and especially in Saudi Arabia, brands need to respect social and cultural values in order to build trust. Beyond relevance of the offer, brands need to be consistent in their communications and customer experience”.

Connected Life explored consumer trust in brands in four areas:

Trust in technology

The rapid evolution of technology is enabling brands to develop better, smoother customer service experiences, but poor deployment or a failure to meet basic needs can erode consumers’ trust and confidence in brands.

This year’s findings showed connected consumers are polarised in their acceptance of artificial intelligence. 43% of connected consumers in MEA are willing to interact with a machine (such as a chatbot) if their query is dealt with more quickly. This has huge implications for the pace at which companies automate customer functions, as well as the moments at which they do so.

This year’s findings also showed that while advances in technology aim to make consumers’ lives simpler and easier, people feel increasingly distracted and harassed by it: one third (32%) of 16-24 year olds in the region think they use their mobile phones too much.

Trust in content

Many brands rely on social media platforms to reach consumers quickly and easily but this year’s research shows that content on those channels is increasingly discredited and distrusted by consumers, with fake news and self-serving information impacting their confidence in what they’re reading.

Nearly a quarter of consumers in MEA find the content brands post on social media channels irrelevant. Furthermore, there is a high and growing level of distrust in social media platforms, with half (50%) of North American and French consumers expressing concern about social networks’ control of what users see in their feeds.

Yet those findings contrast sharply with developing Asian markets like Indonesia and the Philippines, in which just 8% and 12%, respectively, expressed concern.

Trust in data

When it comes to data, people are becoming increasingly aware of the price they are paying for their connected lifestyles, and many feel on the losing end of an unfair exchange.

35% of MEA consumers respondents expressed concern about the amount of personal data that companies have on them, but it was especially high in some markets: almost three-quarters (72%) of Polish consumers are concerned – more than any other nation – and the majority of consumers in the United States (60%) and South Korea (59%) share that view.

However, concerns are much lower in other markets, including Nigeria (32%), China (30%) and Indonesia (22%), where consumers have more transactional expectations from brands (for example, rewards in exchange for data).

Trust in ecommerce

There has been a large increase in brands offering social commerce options to consumers, whether mobile shopping services and the ability to purchase through social media platforms.

New technologies such as ‘buy buttons’ and mobile payments are making ecommerce more frictionless than ever, but many consumers are failing to see the benefits. While 64% of consumers in China would prefer to pay for everything using their mobile, we see that consumers in the MEA region are much less likely to embrace mobile payments.

For example, 47% of connected consumers in the UAE, don’t want to pay for anything with their mobile. This means that while half of online population in UAE prefers to pay for everything using their mobile, the key will be to break the mobile payment barriers for another half.

Stephen concludes:

“While brands in UAE and KSA currently enjoy higher level of trust than those in the developed countries, we expect this to diminish in the years ahead in a dynamic online world. To build and retain trust while this is still relatively easy, brands need to understand the emotional and behavioural drivers of their consumers. The ways in which this is then conveyed to consumers will vary by country and category, but in all markets integrity and consistency are key.”

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