Your most effective PR strategy starts with trust

August 5, 2020

Do you know what Costco, CVS, and Netflix have in common? Consumers trust them more today than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to an Axios survey of over 34,000 Americans, corporations that helped customers adjust to the “new normal” have earned greater consumer brand trust. Eighty one percent of respondents say that large companies “are even more vital now to America’s future than before the pandemic” because of their resources, infrastructure, and other factors.

For small business owners, the key takeaway from this survey is that Americans want companies that they can trust to deliver quality products or service – especially in a time of crisis. For PR practitioners, the key takeaway is that if your client can’t deliver their product or service to the customer’s satisfaction, the best branding can’t put a lipstick on that pig.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, & tele-communications

Take grocery stores. These were some of the most at-risk environments when the pandemic hit America’s shores, but four of the top 10 most trusted corporations are supermarkets – surely because they were one of the few places where locked-down Americans could go, but also because stores were early adopters of social distancing and sanitation, adjusted hours to keep at-risk people safe, and increased uses of no-contact pickups and app orders. Costco, which ranked #7 on the list and was up 11 points in the trust-o-meter, had its Chief Financial Officer praise staff early in the pandemic on an investor call – something which millions of soon-to-be-unemployed Americans undoubtedly appreciated.

CVS, Walgreens, and other pharmacies have also earned improved trust levels. They loaned space for public testing in March and played key roles in guaranteeing Americans safe access to prescription drugs and other necessities

Zoom’s trust didn’t increase, but its stock sure did – up by more than 100 percent in the last year and four times higher than eight months ago. Millions of adults owe their employment to Zoom’s ability to scale its services, and tens of millions of children owe their education to Zoom and other videoconferencing companies. Netflix’s contributions to mental health during lockdowns gave it a 7-point trust increase and the 17th spot on the list, with a stock price two-thirds higher than a year ago and more than 25 percent higher than in February of this year.

Stick to core principles

In ranking 100 companies representing wide swaths of the U.S. private sector, consumers have unconsciously reaffirmed core principles of small business entrepreneurship: offer a great product or service and be able to deliver. If you promise next-day delivery and can make it happen during a pandemic, you’re like UPS and FedEx – which ranked #10 and #20, respectively. If you guarantee quality fast-food and great customer service, you’ll be happy to know that Chick-fil-A was up 11 points and ranked at #11 on the list. And if you’re a brewery that switched to making hand sanitizer, Clorox taking the #1 trust spot may be inspiring.

Some corporations break the mold. Walmart and Facebook have seen modest stock gains even though they rank low on the trust-o-meter. They are outliers which rely heavily on volume to make up for lack of trust. Small business owners and their PR vendors should focus on customers’ core desires to reach saturation within their target market, creating the strongest foundation for long-term branding success

A version of this op-ed was originally published at PR News Online.

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