Edelman’s survey asks respondents to rank how much they trust institutions on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the highest. Almost three quarters of those who are positive towards business rate trust at six or seven, rather than at the higher end of the scale, demonstrating that while trust may be there – it is shaky.
To become more trusted organisations businesses should develop programmes that fulfil a societal need at the same time as selling more products, says Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman Group, citing Unilever’s Lifebuoy hand washing day activity as an example.
Speaking to Marketing Week at the launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer, he says: “Brands have to start thinking of themselves as the catalyst for change. Not just simply accepting things as they are but saying ‘I don’t accept things, I want to be the revolutionary’. Companies that are revolutionary are going to get significant uptake.”
A more democratic approach to leadership that engages both employees and consumers in the corporate brand and will also help business strengthen consumer trust, according to Edelman, as there is a significant gap between trust in institutions and CEOs.
“If you’re a company like Unilever you have the ‘roof’ of the [corporate] brand – smart companies will invest more in the roof of the house [the corporate brand] and have those values move down its [product] brands like Unilever has done through Dove or Ben & Jerry’s. In a way reputation of the corporate [brand] and the brands have to sync up and they both have to be more social,” he says.
Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of the FT.com, also speaking at the event, however, says that while most companies see that social and community engagement are “crucial” for reputation and trust, very few are doing it well.
There is a sense that banks have not learned their lessons, according to Shrimsley, which provides a “huge opportunity” for businesses that can communicate they are different and offer better reasons for consumers to trust them.
Despite the rise in trust in business institutions, Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that almost two thirds (63 per cent) of respondents say they believe the lack of trust affecting the finance sector is spreading to other sectors.
One way to address this spread of distrust to other business sectors is to reassert accountability and responsibility and be “radically transparent” about what a business is doing, says Edelman.
Tim Montgomery, editor of political blog ConservativeHome.com agrees accountability is key for building trust in business.
He says: “Business and media is open to so much scrutiny, we [consumers] are more aware of all their weaknesses and faults which drives this distrust, but equally it’s the discipline for them to get better. I’m optimistic we’re at the early stages of an interesting accountability revolution – at this early stage we are seeing the worst aspects of all sorts of professions but it will be interesting to see in five years time when people like Starbucks really have understood how this works and have completely represented themselves.”
Business does not have to “reinvent the wheel” to build consumer trust, however, says Sarah Churchwell, professor of American literature and public understanding of the humanities.
Also speaking at the Edelman event, she says: “My sense is that we’re not tearing up the old world, we need to rediscover an older world as what’s happened in the last 20 years has been deeply destructive. There are things that our grandparents worked out that we would do well to remember. We don’t have to start again every generation. We can go back and say the wisdom of the ages has worked, some of these old senses of how people ought to work in relationship to their community [work]”