Thanks to the extended uninvited presence of the pandemic we have begun to doubt ourselves. We do not know what to trust, whom to trust, how much to trust, why to trust, how to trust, on what basis to trust? From being something you experience, trust has started taking the dimension of being an emotion.
To understand the current phenomenon of trust deficit, we should first understand the trust building journey. Imagine a dish of something that you don’t know about is kept in front of you. You have no idea what it is. How would you go about the process of determining whether that particular dish is good or bad for you? First is sight. If you feel it is appetising, it breaks down one barrier. Then you smell it. If it’s an aroma that you are familiar with, it breaks down the second barrier. Then you feel it – gooey, mushy, crispy, hard, etc…So if it looks alright, smells good and is also familiar to the touch, then it breaks down the third barrier. Then comes the sound it makes when you plunge your spoon or fork into it. The sound bolsters the sense of touch. If it feels hard, but sounds soft then your barriers are up. There is an element of doubt that comes in. It makes you apprehensive about tasting it though it looks and smells good. But if the sound complements the sense of touch then that’s the fourth barrier down. And finally when all of these happen in tandem and send out loud positive signals to you is when your instinct musters up the courage to trust all those senses and finally take a bite. Mind you, even at this stage there is every likelihood that you will feel let down.
And if that happens then all the trust that was built up by the various senses comes crashing down, irreversibly as far as that specific item is concerned. But if it does add up then you and the item are bonded forever. This entire journey is not more than a few seconds but it’s residual impact is for keeps. And if you realise, the journey of trust building starts with a visual confirmation first and foremost. Of course, some senses get heightened more than the other depending on the item/object under question. But all of them work to add up to one singular outcome – trust. That is what makes a particular street vendor, a particular restaurant, a particular dish in those places the reason you gravitate towards them. Point I am driving is that the five senses play a disproportionately significant role in building trust. And that these senses don’t operate in isolation. It’s a multi-pronged system that comes into play all the time.
Per me the trust deficit that we are currently experiencing starts with the mask. If you can’t see what the physiognomy is emoting then how can you trust that person? Which is then exacerbated by social distancing. We find ourselves shrinking away from others if they come close to you. Our senses are now heightened to anyone approaching us. We start thinking ‘what the hell does she/he want that she/he is coming so close to me? And that too in a mask!’ Everything, and everyone, has been rendered untouchable – only exacerbated by the constant washing of hands and things we buy. There are more items drying in various parts of the house than there are items in the refrigerators and kitchen cabinets these days. The virus also affects the senses of smell and taste. That’s four of the five senses with massive barriers around them. In such a hyper-tense state we have also stopped trusting our sense of hearing. Who do you trust – those who say it will take time to find a cure or those who tell that a cure is just round the corner? And why should you trust? Can you really trust the ‘official’ figures of any country?
So what are the new parameters, or the new normal of trust building going to be?
As we have seen, the age-old journey of trust building has been waylaid by the seismic shift that the pandemic has wreaked on to the world at large. In the new world order, it will be about the experience – the experience of shopping, buying something without touching, without smelling, without hearing. And here is where the visual optics of buying something off the computer screen as the primary port of call will play a disproportionately significant role. But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Visual optics will play a role only till such time that the physical product lands in your hands. At that point in time it will be the other senses that will kick in and either accept or summarily reject depending on the confirmation of your bias. The returns policy will help build trust – but only for the marketplace, not for the product/brand. Which is why, while the new economy companies will have a field day (if they already haven’t – last heard Jeff Bezos had added the GDP of a small country as his personal fortune in the last three months!), it will be brands that depend on these online market places that will have a tougher time to build trust. While you may decide to buy something based on its visual appeal and by reading good things about it (which as we all know can be easily bought), your trust building journey will reach its desired destination only when you personally see, hear, feel &/or smell, &/or taste what you have chosen. Would it then be fair to say that trust is actually the proverbial, albeit passive, ‘sixth’ sense? Overlooked or taken for granted so far, because of the power of the other five active senses, which suddenly cannot be depended on anymore? The way the world is going, one would tend to think so.
The author is executive director, Lowe Lintas