Consumers are showing an increasing preference for local culture and growing more distrustful of global institutions and information sources, including social media, according to a new study conducted in 29 countries by McCann Worldgroup's Truth Central global intelligence unit.

The Truth About Global Brands 2: Powered by the Streets study also reveals consumers are showing positive attitudes towards global brands and believe global brands can play a valuable role in contributing to local cultures. In fact, 81 percent of those surveyed believe global brands can play a vital role for good. 

Their findings reinforce global businesses' interest in acquiring smaller, local brands, in an effort to siphon market share in certain categories, but also reach customers who favor those smaller-batch, artisanal products or prefer to shop local. Consumers also want to ensure they're supporting brands who share their values and will demand more take a public stance on social and political issues, whether those brands want to or not. Consumers will reward brands that they feel support them and call to task those that don't. 

Businesses today, global or local, would do well to consider how their brands are helping bring customers together and how to help foster that feeling through their marketing efforts.

"The key takeaway about people's attitudes on a global basis is that consumers still believe in the power of brands and companies to act in a positive way--and they in fact trust global brands and corporations more than institutions, political bodies or other organizations," said Suzanne Powers, Global Chief Strategy Officer of McCann Worldgroup, in a press release.

Local brands need to tap into this sentiment and showcase how their local work benefits their local community. Global brands must figure out how to behave like local brands and make those key connections with consumers at the local level -- and to not do so deceptively. 

The fair trade movement illustrates this well. A local brick and mortar retail business that sells fair trade products supports its local community while connecting their customers to global products and a global movement. Engaging customers to learn more about what's happening global can be done by including description cards near products or organizing travel to developing countries. 

Several friends and I have gotten into arguments over how global brands are buying smaller brands but not making it clear that those businesses are now owned by larger corporations. Kellogg owns RXBar, a protein bar known for its minimalist packaging and ingredients list; General Mills owns Annie's Organic Foods, of the popular mac-and-cheese line marketed to parents of young children; Colgate-Palmolive owns Tom's of Maine, toothpaste and other toiletries favored by environmentalists. 

They argue that it's a great thing that global businesses are buying these local brands because it provides much-needed funding for them to grow their brand. No argument there. My issue and I think this will become an even bigger issue as consumers learn the brands behind the brands, is that nowhere on the packaging does it show who owns the company. If these global brands are so proud to be supporting these local businesses, why shy from marketing their brand? Truth: because they want consumers to feel like their still supporting independent mom-and-pop operations or local businesses and not supporting global businesses whose values and business practices don't align with theirs.

Therein lies the issue. As the study reports, during a time where news sources are being challenged, consumers across the globe believe that "truth is the most valuable currency" in all conversations--public, private, across social media and anywhere in the economy. Still, they feel they need to review five information sources in order to feel like they know "the truth" about any subject.

How can small business owners still connect with their customers, even when large or global business buy them?

  1. Encourage large business to be upfront with their packaging and let customers know who owns them by including their brand.
  2. Work with larger business to support issues that matter to their customers by sponsoring events. 

"Despite the tremendous upheavals in politics, economics and social media, consumers still see brands as conduits to change," added India Wooldridge, Director, McCann Worldgroup Truth Central in the press release. "In fact, they trust brands more than their own institutions. Brands can bring joy, happiness, change and meaning into the daily lives of consumers. Brands can bring about change for good in society. Brands can play an important role in cultural leadership. But they must act honestly and truthfully."

What does this mean for businesses? Don't offer rainbow-colored cake and push it off as supporting LGTBQ rights. Hire a diverse workforce instead. Offer incentives to customers who bike to work or your place of business rather than just talk about your eco-friendly footprint. Organize events around issues that matter to your customers and employees. 

Acting honestly and truthfully as a brand doesn't need to be complicated - it just needs to be genuine.