What is Your Share of Trust?
Dean Crutchfield article, December 2008, Advertising Age
During the latter part of the last century we finally accepted that the age-old notion of “economic man” – a rational, single-minded, self-interested entity – no longer existed. It was abundantly clear that every economic, business and purchasing decision was made by “ethical man” – an emotionally charged, moral entity that was consumed by the affects on people, their community, their well being and their environment. Suddenly, the marketing of “values” and the selling of reputations, products and services had become big business and forever inextricably intertwined.
It was a new era and a quantum leap: a crying out for words like ethics and trust indulged by the rapid adoption across corporate governance, stakeholder groups, CSR, business ethics and the role of vision, mission, values and culture within companies.
Studies audaciously revealed that people had more trust in brands than the Church, Government and Institutions! In the wake of the Enron and WorldCom debacle, this took a thorough beating for sure, but we’re an optimistic lot and past failures are not an indication of future performance. Or so we thought.
Even the 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 3,100 opinion leaders across 18 countries revealed some fascinating findings:
“At least 70% of respondents in North America (71%) and Asia (72%) state that global business plays a role that no other institution can in addressing major social and environmental challenges. Fifty-seven percent in the European Union and 63% in Latin America also believe this to be true.”
This merger of the economic and ethical has transformed the meaning and context of trust. Hitherto, trust has been an essential ingredient of all brands and their reputations. Consumer expectations are a combination both emotional and rational: that the brand can and will deliver on promise and that it won’t rip them off.
Here’s the catch: stocks do not have a memory recall button, but consumers do. And now we’re deep into another debacle where global markets have been ripped to shreds and working folk are losing their livelihoods and homes, all the while staring down the barrel at sky high gas prices, avoiding salmonella infected jalapeno peppers, tainted baby milk, toys coated in lead paint, lethal pet foods, plastic bottles leaching off poisonous chemicals, the list goes on (too long).
As the shock, horror and probes in the media have shown about the current pandemonium, the notion of trust (in the commercial world) is still naively centered on the transaction itself and minimizing the “risk” involved in the transaction – which is what brands are supposedly all about. But even at this level of transactional trust, the relationship between business and the consumer is a contract of trust that has clearly been broken. With money easy to come by, confidence at arrogant levels, hedge funds heralded as kings and basic risk management theory thrown out of the window we are steeped once again in very murky waters.
The outcome of these times will reveal that our notion of trust has dramatically moved on from just the transaction itself or trust in the company’s product, but to trust in the people behind the product! Right now, it’s less about “can I trust them to deliver?” but “are they the sort of people who would…?”. Are they the sort of people who would sell me a stock that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on; who would sell me a mortgage I can’t repay; who would tell me a product safe when it’s not; who would use questionable chemicals to manufacture goods more cheaply; who would test on animals; pollute the environment, all in the search of a profit?
Today, most organizations commonly refer to the meaning of share in terms of market share, profit share, revenue share and share of wallet, etc. What they often foolishly overlook, however, is that they are also competing with other organizations for share of trust.
So in today’s world, full of litigation, accusation, scandal and bankruptcy, evidence and counter evidence, when it’s down to the wire, whom do you trust? Which of the organizations you are doing business with are and have the sort of people who would tell the honest truth in this matter?
To regain trust we must first learn from the carnage of message management we have been through these last 12 months. From the very beginning we created a cacophony of conflicting messages from discombobulated departments: investor relations, marketing, public affairs, media relations and HR. Then it dawned upon all of us that audiences overlap and the need for unity and consistency is critical. Making matters worse is that we all knew this already.
Secondly, the smug belief that perception is reality has been found wanting. The truth should not be whatever you get others to believe, it should be about the delivery between word and deed: finance might be the brain of the economy, but brands are its heart.
People and business live their lives in the future not the present. If you take away the future the present becomes meaningless. So as we reap the bitter harvest of imprudent lending, there will be revealed a huge new market for trust that the few and the honorable can mount. In this overwhelming need for revitalization of trust, corporations, governments and regulators will all be ferociously fighting to recapture their share.
So even if I’m praying for light at the end of the tunnel, thanking Paulson for the bail out and calling the police to tell them my tax dollars have been stolen, it all comes down to who do you trust? And in this market for “trust” – worth trillions – the battle will be won and lost on the words and deeds of brands.