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Trust barometer reveals opportunity for brands.

Edelman recently released its 2019 Trust Barometer and there’s a lot of findings for brands contained within. This year the barometer focuses on the rise of trust in the brands and how business should seek to maximise this.

As far as key findings go, the good news is that generally, people are more trusting than they were last year. But we are still a long way from what could be described as a trusting bunch. A couple of points in case:

On average, only 49% of Australians trust our key institutions – NGOs, Government, Business and Media. But that score is eight points higher than it was in 2018, so maybe our robust Australian cynicism is being wound back slightly.

Across all global markets, Government and the media are still the most distrusted institutions at 47% a piece. And look, given the state of global politics and the assault on media this is not surprising – these have been hovering around the low forties for much of the last five years, so 47% is a pretty solid improvement.

But this is where things start to get interesting from a media perspective.

Of media sources, traditional media and search engines are the most trusted at 65%. So it would seem that the Trump effect of trying to discredit mainstream media is having only marginal impact. It also shows that trust in the algorithm remains strong.

Additionally, people are more engaged and sharing more news than ever. In 2019, engagement with the news publishers rose by a massive 22 points – but the number of people who are not just reading but also amplifying has doubled. 40 per cent not only consume news once a week or more, but they also routinely amplify.

So what does it mean for brands?

66% of people trust brands – a massive percentage considering how split opinion can be. So now is the time to maximise human connection. Not only with customers, but with every individual within your organisation.

Off the back of the report, Edelman proposed the Trust at Work framework. There are some core lessons here for Brand Managers and organisational leaders which we need to pay attention to.

1. Choose your mission.

We’ve written extensively on brand purpose in the past. The decline in trust of government and media is being matched by an increase in trust for business. People now see Government as ineffective and slow, and businesses are stepping into the void as champions of social causes. Apple introduced screen time reports to keep their users informed (despite this having the likely effect of reducing usage).

As realities like climate change, inequality and general fracturing of global consciousness become more engrained, consumer activism helps people to feel empowered – it’s not what they’re buying, it’s who they’re buying it from.

Importantly, purpose and profit don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Making money is fine, but do it in pursuit of something greater that will improve the world at large.

2. Engage your people.

A supportive, engaged internal community is one of the strongest assets a business can have. Hire people who believe in the business’s mission and purpose (duh), make sure they have ample opportunity to get involved and keep them up to date with all the progress the business is making so they can see the benefits of their work.

Strategists have long discussed inside-out vs outside-in approaches. And while the customer-led, outside-in approach has gained favour recently, when it comes to brand trust built on purpose, I would argue that an inside-out approach is the way forward.

Cultivating that robust mission, cascading it throughout the business and getting staff behind it will translate through the external activities and associations with the brand. If your purpose and your brand are aligned, this will result in great belief and greater trust from consumers.

3. Keep it close (to begin with)

Think global, act locally. Truer now than ever, and a concept of key importance for business and brand.

Enacting brand purpose through a focus on local issues is paramount. Your contribution to your community should be meaningful, and we are seeing this manifest through things like banks adopting ethical lending practices, Nike addressing the US’s race and gender inequality, or Microsoft’s $500m affordable housing initiative.

The net result is that building consumer trust through these local activities reflects upon wider markets. It creates huge amounts of goodwill for the brand and shows people that yes, profit is a motive, but so is empowerment.

4. Stand and be heard.

Alan Joyce got a pie in the face for his stance on marriage equality right at a time where large numbers of people were being frustrated by backwards debate and were in need of a galvanising gesture. And while I’m sure Alan would have preferred that unity to come from a slightly less meringue-filled place, the incident stepped the debate up a gear.

It also highlighted just how loud a voice the CEO of a company can be. Brand ambassadors have been around for years, but the emergence of the socially-conscious CEO is relatively new, and arguably more poignant. Consumers want to see that the people who are guiding brand decisions are on board with the causes they claim to support. They want to know that the brands they trust to bring about social change have that commitment running through their DNA.

In summary, the report makes clear that consumers are willing to trust brands if they are genuinely acting responsibly to bring positive change in the world. The greatest test for brand custodians and communications partners will be to ensure that every part of the organisation lives and breathes the brands purpose.

Paul Scarf