Research Insight

The Business Imperatives for Building Trust in Latin America



In the Latin American countries surveyed (Argentina, Brazil and Mexico) in the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, the private sector continues to hold double the trust of the public sector. But that’s only at home.

Since the Trust Barometer started analyzing business trust based on location of headquarters, we’ve seen the same broad result: Companies from developing countries have a large trust deficit compared to companies from developed markets.

Companies from Brazil and Mexico are among the least trusted countries to do business with. Many brands from Latin America are competing against international media headlines about corruption and violence in the region. Though, back home, these regional multinational companies have a moderately high level of reliance, global consumers have limited awareness of their local reputation.

However, across this region, trust in government is lower than global averages. One hypothesis could be that Latin Americans do not believe their respective country’s authorities are looking out for their best interests. It’s worth repeating the gap between trust in government and trust in business; the private sector continues to hold double the trust of the public sector.

This gap provides companies a great opportunity to lead positive change. They have the license to lead in a way that government no longer holds. This is currently happening and its continuance may even positively contribute to the “nation’s brand,” adding credibility to the country.

But, that is only step one. To build trust locally and internationally, companies must:

  1. Establish a new dialogue with stakeholders.

Customers want more involvement with companies. They want to understand why and how it functions, and to be able to engage in a dialogue. This is what a trusting relationship with a brand means to them. Otherwise, respondents have indicated they would not buy a product or service, they would actually criticize the company amongst friends and family and over a third among Latin Americans’ countries surveyed, said that would share negative comments on social channels.

  1. Be transparent.

The study highlights 16 trust-building attributes, which fall into five performance clusters. “Engagement,” which includes “Communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business and “Integrity,” which includes “Has transparent and open business practices,” are the most important and critical for companies to advance their business and advance innovations in the marketplace. Specifically on the innovation issue, making test results available publicly for review is one of the most important actions that could increase trust in business.

  1. Demonstrate that you care not only about profit but also about individuals and the society as a whole.

Informed public* respondents stated that innovation is not only occurring too fast, but is driven by needs like greed and business growth over benefit to improve people´s lives or make the world a better place. Between countries surveyed in the region, more than 80 percent of the respondents believe that a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.

In this scenario, the failure of companies to contribute to the greater good is the main reason for the fall of credibility in the private sector in the opinion of more than the half of the Latin Americans respondents.

In summary, our findings point that delivering a good service, product or innovation is not enough. It is necessary that the companies’ behavior be based on the concepts of engagement, transparency, co-creation and bringing personal and social benefits to the consumer.

In a region where people do not trust their own elected officials, it might just be the case that they are looking for that trust from those they chose every day: goods and services providers.

Allan McCrea Steele is the acting CEO, Edelman Latin America.

*Informed Public (Edelman Trust Barometer 2015): 500 respondents in U.S. and China, and 200 in other countries. Ages 25-64, college-educated. In top 25% of household income per age group in each country. Report significant media consumption and engagement in business news and public policy.

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