Social media takes a toll on brand trust in Indian market, finds IPG study

The all-pervasive nature of digital media while transforming lives and shopping habits of consumers has also had an unintended consequence: People today are less trusting of social media recommendations and influencers.

A new study by Interpublic Group (IPG), according to its managing director Terry Peigh, reveals that trust in social media in markets such as India and the US has fallen sharply. While the drop in India and the US is 6 per cent and 11 per cent respectively between 2017 and 2018, in Brazil, Germany and the UK the drop is around 2-4 per cent. China is the only market defying the trend, says Peigh. It has seen social media trust rise by 4 per cent between 2017 and 2018.

The six-country quantitative study that began in 2009 tracks changes in consumer behaviour every year. India joined the programme in 2011. This year's study has been presented by IPG's group agency FCB India.

Peigh added that consumers have become more demanding over time, seeking new experiences, value and information from brands. This is pushing companies to reinvent themselves and alter their marketing strategies to the new reality.

In the US, for example, brands such as Macy’s (department store), Patagonia (outdoor clothing company) and Glossier (beauty products) are increasingly turning to their employees, partners and consumers to tell their brand stories as they strive to be “authentic”. The accent on “real” life stories is growing, say experts, as consumers increasingly shun the “made up” world of make-believe.

The pressure on brands to be honest and truthful is growing as consumers hold them to a higher standard. In India, Peigh says, the trend to hold brands to a higher standard is uniform across age groups including millennials (18-34), the middle-aged (35-52) and older consumers (53-70), pointing to the high level of awareness and access to information. The result is that consumers want better quality products and services and ask about the sustainability of the supply chain.

“In India, for instance, consumers demand excellent quality products and services across categories. We are seeing this in sectors such as automotive, software services as well as fast moving consumer goods such as hair and skin care, fast food and snacks,” Peigh says.

Categories such as beauty, fashion and electronics that have migrated online in the last few years are having to unlearn the rules of social media marketing, say experts, as discerning consumers increasingly push the boundaries of information discovery, choosing to rely on their "close circle of influencers" including friends and family when making purchase decisions.

Peigh endorses this view saying that nearly 60 per cent of Indian netizens, according to the study, initiate conversations about brands with friends and relatives regularly. "They want to evaluate their purchase, both before and after a product is bought," he says.

Indians, in fact, rank second to only Brazilians in seeking out information about a brand after a purchase, Peigh says. And the need for “social currency” thanks to this access to information is also steadily growing, he says.

For instance, consumers in India today are more fulfilled when they discover new information about brands than they were a few years ago. The number stands at 71 per cent today versus 52 per cent a few years ago. 

Middle-aged consumers, according to the study, are also more fulfilled than millennials when they discover new information about brands.  All around therefore brands are bracing up for greater scrutiny of their claims, be it over their products and services or the causes they espouse. Clearly, for brands, setting up 24x7 communication channels and building large online communities in the hope of an expanded footprint, there is a flip side to the digital story.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel