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.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Photo: a L p Flickr CC