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There is a growing trust gap between Middle East consumers and brands, something that businesses need to address pronto. Image Credit: iStock

Dubai: Middle East businesses are facing a trust deficit... and it has reached alarming levels.

As much as 69 per cent of Middle East respondents in a new study by Ford Motor Co. say it’s becoming even more difficult to “trust” what companies say and do. And here’s the most worrying part for businesses - 67 per cent surveyed worldwide went on to say that “Once a brand loses my trust, there is no getting it back”.

“Historically, trust in a brand rested largely on the quality of the product or service delivered,” said Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s Global Consumer Trends and Futuring Manager. (In other words, Connelly does a lot of crystal ball gazing to get a bead on what the next big thing could be all about.)

“Yet, there is growing interest on the unseen elements of trust - How is the product manufactured? From where are the raw materials sourced? What measures are done to protect the workforce?”

Big on values

The “value” factor is taking on epic proportions - consumers no longer want to go by a brand’s product or service credentials. They want to know what the brand actually stands for - and brand owners better come up with a few of them.

“There’s growing interest in the unseen elements of building consumer trust,” says the Ford report, titled 2020 Looking Further with Ford Trends Report. “Consumers want to believe that companies are doing the right thing - but they need to see behind the curtain to believe it.

“The rate of change globally has been on the rise – and without the trust in the institutions, brands and peers to rely on, a majority of people are feeling extremely overwhelmed.”

And consumers want brands to reflect their values, and are asking brands to move from a “product-based mindset to a values-based mindset”. But it has not reached a point where brands are feeling the acute pain of lost sales. “Fifty-nine per cent of adults globally say they care more about purchase convenience than brand values, while only 54 per cent of Middle East adults put convenience above brand values,” the report notes.

“As internet commerce grows, so do expectations for brands; 67 per cent agree with the statement: “I have higher expectations for brands than I did in the past”.”

Climate change is hot air

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist, will certainly not like this bit. The Ford survey reckons that while people do pay a lot of heed to climate change, “that worry isn’t translating into urgency: 64 per cent of people who aren’t changing their behaviour to help fight climate change say they think they can’t make a difference.”

But their Middle East counterparts seem to be of a different mindset - 72 per cent are “actively changing their behaviour to help in the fight against climate change”.

Secondhand is OK

There is also a growing acceptance to go for pre-owned stuff, which Connelly calls the “second time around” trend.

“Historically, the notion would evoke images of tattered, broken-down or out-of-date goods,” she added. “Today, sophisticated, market-savvy shoppers are breathing new life into previously owned goods. Indeed, 65 per cent of the people surveyed in the Middle East agreed there is no stigma to secondhand shopping today.” (Among Middle East Gen Zers, those born after 1995, 72 per cent would even prefer to buy used rather than new, as long as there are good options.)

“This has significant implications in the automotive world,” Connelly said. “Worldwide, 42 per cent of the people we surveyed said they only buy pre-owned vehicles.

“So, we must design and engineer for not just the first owner, but the second, third and fourth owners. Ford is now equipping vehicles with over-the-air update technology, making it easy to wirelessly upgrade vehicles with capability and convenience updates that help improve the vehicles over time and keep them fresh long after leaving the lot.”

Age of despair?
The mood of the consumer is definitely downbeat in Ford’s trends report. Fifty-eight per cent of adults globally say they feel “more despair than hope” when it comes to fighting climate change. And yet, less than half are taking action when it comes to choosing green transportation methods, such as driving electric, carpooling, or taking public transportation.