So we’re at an interesting and unique place in our examination of trust and what it means for a brand to be trustworthy. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had impacts all around the world. What a brand chooses to do or not do now has reverberations that extend far beyond their company’s financial performance.
A brand’s character is demonstrated by its actions. Customers are watching what their favorite brands are doing at this time. This is the moment when loyalty is won or lost on that forever basis.
Knowing What The Right Thing Is Can Be Complicated: The Hierarchy of Trust
Important to remember: we’re less than a month into the invasion. Events are happening very quickly, and brands (just like the rest of us) haven’t had much opportunity to understand what’s going on, never mind craft the correct response to it. Everyone is operating on the fly during a complex, difficult situation.
That being said, what we’ve seen emerging is that this is one instance where size definitely does matter. Small to mid-sized brands appear to be taking inspiration and direction from how larger organizations are announcing their decisions to limit or cease doing business with Russia at this time.
You can see this playing out in many areas, but for this, we’ll use the world of sport as an example. Fairly immediately after the Russians first invaded, FIFA condemned the violence and announced the Russian team would be subject to penalties. This was quickly seen as an insufficient response, with players from Ukraine, Poland, and other neighboring countries refusing to play against the Russian team, no matter what it would be called. FIFA was under great pressure to ban Russian teams from competing entirely but held off saying they would impose a total ban until the International Olympic Committee – IOC made a similar announcement regarding Russian participation in the Paralympics. Over the years, IOC and FIFA have had contentious relations, but in this instance, FIFA seemed ready to let the IOC take the lead.
People Trust Brands More Than They Trust Governments
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Report for 2022, globally, people trust brands and NGOs far more than they trust the government and the media. Why does that dynamic exist?
We can’t cover all of the answers to that question here, but one cause – illustrated by FIFA’s rapidly evolving response to the Ukraine crisis – is that brands have to respond to their fans and critics in a way that governments do not. If the customer base withdraws its support, the brand fails. Even an organization as large as FIFA needs to pay attention to what its fans expect of them so that trust relationships can be maintained.
Subsequent to the IOC & FIFA other brands, including The Coca-Cola Company and McDonald’s have also announced they’re ceasing operations in Russia. Thinking of this in terms of trust, what brand promises do you think these brands are fulfilling with this decision?