Who can we trust? Not the usual suspects ~ Brand Mix

Monday, September 28, 2009

Who can we trust? Not the usual suspects

Photo: a L p Flickr CC

After years of moving from place to place and country to country, I finally stayed somewhere long enough to get called for jury duty. After signing in, sitting around and watching a motivational video that tried to sell the benefits of jury service to a skeptical audience, I was one of 45 people called down to the courtroom. The rest of the day was spent by the judge and attorneys whittling down 45 people to find the 12 people + 1 alternate who they believed could render a true, just and fair verdict. After all was said and done, I was selected as the alternate or, as described by the judge, the "spare tire."

But before that, somewhere in the middle of this tortuous process, there was an interesting moment around the topic of witness credibility. Whose testimony, the attorney asked, would be more credible: The police who had arrested the defendant or the defendant himself? One potential juror was excused when she said that she would believe the police because they always tell the truth. Another was excused because he had had a bad experience with the police and was not inclined to believe them anymore. Too much trust on the one hand, too little on the other.

Another potential juror asked the same question said that he would tend to believe the police more than the defendant because the defendant would have more reason to shade the truth than the police officers since he had more to lose. An acceptable answer. Not excused.

With that moment
fresh in my mind, I read David Kiley and Burt Helm's article in BusinessWeek: "The Great Trust Offensive" which describes how companies like American Express and Ford are revamping their marketing to try and win back trust lost in the recession. The loss of trust has been quite dramatic. According to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 44% of Americans said they trusted business, down from 58% in 2007.

What's interesting is that, as companies try and rebuild trust, they are finding that traditional methods don't work as well as they used to. As Kiley/Helm say: "The days of consumers passively absorbing a TV commercial--or for that matter a banner ad--are over." Only 13% of those surveyed by the Edelman report thought that ads were credible.

And, looping back to my jury moment, "who" can speak credibly for businesses is an issue as well. CEO credibility also hit a new low in the Edelman report. Only 29% of those surveyed believe them (and only 17% in the U.S.). Like the defendants in a trial, CEOs are perceived by many to have too much at stake to be entirely trustworthy. Employees, on the other hand, are easier to trust and, in fact, Edelman found that conversations with employees are the most trusted corporate source (40%). Perhaps this is not such a new development. As
Ron Nessen (Gerald Ford's Press Secretary) said many years ago: "Nobody believes the official spokesman . . . but everybody trusts an unidentified source."

Of course, the current erosion in business trust has been driven primarily by the recession and the financial crisis. But the lack of trust in
company leaders and traditional media is also being fueled by (and fueling) the rise of social media. As companies try and rebuild trust, they'll need to be even more creative and determined to engage in this medium.

Bonus Book Review!

The likely reason that the Q&A between the attorneys and potential jurors stuck in my mind was because the book that I was reading to while away the court waiting time was
The Truth About Trust in Business by Vanessa Hall. It's a perfectly timed book given the recent erosion in trust in business and marketers attempts to win some of it back. It presents a simple model for building trust based on: managing expectations, meeting people's needs and keeping promises. Not much new thinking but, since many businesses fail on one or more of these pillars, something worth revisiting. The book has some interesting case studies covering various areas including "trust in marketing and branding" with a scorecard to assess your products trustworthiness.

There's one area where I disagree with the author. She subscribes to the "Humpty Dumpty" school of trust--that, once trust is broken,
nothing can put it back together again. I personally subscribe to the less extreme "Broken Leg" school which holds that trust can be snapped in an instant and it takes quite some time and effort to repair.


Vanessa Hall said...

Hi Martin - thanks for the book review! I just wanted to clarify one point you made. Whilst I use a model that describes trust as an egg, I DON'T always subscribe that once trust is broken it can never be repaired. What I DO talk about is how important it is for all of us to be aware of just how fragile trust is, how easily it can break down, and in most cases, once it is broken, that is the end of the relationship.

However, trust CAN be rebuilt if, and only if:

1. both parties want to rebuild the relationship
2. they go right back to the beginning and re-establish their Expectations, Needs and Promises
3. they start small and build the trust back up slowly.

The egg analogy and the ENP Wall that I use still applies - you simply cannot go back to doing what you were doing and expect the trust to remain intact. You need to rebuild a new wall and place a new trust in those ENPs I talk about throughout the book.

Thanks again - Vanessa

Martin Bishop said...


Welcome to the blog and thanks for the clarification! It will be interesting to see how Edelman's Trust Barometer moves in the next few months because I don't see many companies going through the careful process of rebuilding trust that you outline in your comment (and the book)

Andy Wright said...

Very interesting post. A lot of brands (especially financial) will have lost trust in the last 18 months.

I agree that trust certainly isn't going to come from reassurance or mission statements by CEO's or advertising campaigns.

It has to come from the rebuilding of relationships through valuable, rewarding and positive brand experiences. Lots of them over a period of time. Gradually it can be rebuilt.

Thanks for provoking some thought!

Nick Black said...

Hi Martin,

Nice post. I would agree that “as companies try and rebuild trust, they are finding that traditional methods don't work as well as they used to.” Trust is much more than a message, and it takes more than advertising to build brand trust.

Thought I’d add to this conversation by providing some metrics around how to build brand trust. In a recent North American study, we managed to uncover six psychological drivers of trust in brands. All six of these drivers are equally correlated with trust and work together like parts of an engine. If a brand wants to build trust - then these six drivers hold the key.

Here’s a link to the study: http://nickblackonblack.blogspot.com/2009/09/brand-trust-six-drivers-of-trust.html


Nick Black
Vice President - Strategic Insight
w: www.concertomarketing.com
b: http://nickblackonblack.blogspot.com

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