Why business must respond to the implosion of trust

How business must respond to the implosion of trust

I was surprised and taken aback by the release of the 2017 Edelman Global Trust Barometer, and perhaps even just as surprised that its results and implications passed by like a ship in the night. The implications for politics, marketing, advertising, PR, business and community engagement are profound, and should shape how we approach these in the future.

In a nutshell, the 2017 Trust Barometer revealed the largest-ever drop in trust across the four institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media (43%) fell “precipitously” to all-time lows in 17 countries, while trust levels in government (41%) dropped in 14 markets and is the least trusted institution in half of the 28 countries surveyed. CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37%, plummeting in every country studied, while government leaders (29%) remain least credible.

The survey was completed before Brexit and the US Presidential Election. Australia, at that time, was ranked about the same as US on most measures.

Although trust has dropped for all four institutions, business is the only one that is viewed as being able to make a difference. Yet business itself is on the brink of distrust especially over such issues as globalisation and automation.

The most challenging issue for business is that experts and leaders are no longer trusted. A “person like yourself” (60%) is now just as credible a source of information about a company as is a technical (60%) or academic (60%) expert, and far more credible than a CEO (37%) and government official (29%).

Respondents favour search engines (59%) over human editors (41%) and online media actually increased in trust to 51% as compared to the falls in traditional media (57%) and social media (41%). Although traditional media appears to have a semblance of trust left, a recent post-election poll in the US reported that 90% of Republican voters distrusted it. The trend is not reassuring.

How business must respond to the implosion of trust

Image Copyright Edelman 2017 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER(TM)

Implications for marketing and business

Although people are more likely than ever to ignore information that supports a position they do not believe in, the steps of the journey to convert them to a new viewpoint or sale remains the same as in the past.

The four key steps are to:

  1. Establish resonance
  2. Reduce resistance
  3. Build trust
  4. Create perceived value.

The steps overlap. Without resonance resistance will remain high. Building trust helps create perceived value. Trust cannot be maintained if value is not perceived.

While the steps remain the same, what needs to dramatically change is the emphasis and the methods of achieving the outcomes of the four steps. For example, running an aspirational advertising campaign when trust is low in a brand, or when value is not perceived, is likely to be a very poor investment.

Running major PR campaigns on TV or through traditional media platforms featuring experts and the CEO is also likely to be a very poor investment in terms of moving the needle.

Building trust as authority disperses

The key to building trust in today’s world is to thoroughly research and understand where a company sits in relation to resonance, resistance, trust and perceived value on all major issues, campaigns and brands. Then the right people, content and channels have to be carefully selected to take the audience through the journey, including on the company website. Story telling by “non-experts” will play a key role.

The mainstream media will see a further decline in their prior role as the credible source. Companies and governments will have to become story-tellers, creating their own content for consumers via short, sharable and visual pieces of content.

Respondents now rate, for the first time, online search higher than television and newspapers as their first source of credible information. Peer-to-peer communication is more trusted than the traditional top-down model. The most credible sources today, respondents say, are an academic, a technical expert, a regular employee and “a person like myself” (60%) — all more trusted than CEOs (37%).

“A person like myself” includes customers. Although I’m unaware of their financial results, a company that appears to be doing this well, and in a “fit for purpose” way for the future of trust, is the insurance company YOUI. YOUI uses stories from “people like me” extensively, and builds trust and perceived value.

Business is facing a much more complex challenge to gain influence and respect than ever before.  Let’s hope that they can do so because few people now trust the leaders of government to be able to restore faith in the system.


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