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Kiwis and Trust

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A version of this post initially appeared on SixtySecondView.

Kiwis are not that egalitarian and are positively “European” in matters of Trust, according to the first-ever Edelman Trust Barometer results for New Zealand announced in partnership with our New Zealand affiliate Acumen Republic.

Among the general population, New Zealanders are the 18th most trusting of 29 countries polled in our 16-year global study of over 33,000 respondents, and the trust gap between informed public and mass population is 12 points, equal to the global average, though much lower than the U.S. (19 points), the UK (17 points) and Australia (16 points).

Across all audiences, the six nations most trusting of the institutions of business, media, government and NGOs are, as usual, all developing economies that traditionally confer trust on the institutions that have guided them in their growth.

NZ Trust 1

In New Zealand, however, only the informed public sample (top 25 percent earners, tertiary educated and significant consumers of media and business news) are not in the distrusting territory, a result more usual for a European country with much less economic success than New Zealand has had in recent years.

NGOs are the most trusted of the four institutions in New Zealand, followed by business, government and then media. This is slightly different from the global findings for which government, not media, is the least trusted institution.

Perhaps more surprising, however, is that a nation that has egalitarianism and a “we are all in it together” notion of itself has a bigger trust divide between its informed public and mass population than Australia, Ireland and Germany.NZ Trust 2

The big trust gap number for the U.S. (31 points), based on a respondent’s income level, can perhaps partly explain the rise of Donald Trump and populist politics playing to a disaffected and increasingly angry working poor; in the UK (19 points) for Corbynism and an anti-immigration fueled Brexit campaign; the millions on the streets in Brazil (26 points); and the rise of Marie Le Pen in France (29 points). While the trust gap for New Zealand is significantly lower – given New Zealand’s relatively benign economic past and current conditions – it is perhaps a little surprising there is not a greater than average consensus.

Unpacking the position of trust in the institution of media in New Zealand a little more: TV, social media and radio all have significantly higher usage than print (in either newspaper or magazine formats). Search and social, as in the rest of world, score highly – underlining the need for optimization and paid to be bundled with media relations and content marketing in any successful communications campaign in New Zealand.

NZ Trust 3

Kiwis do not put a lot of stock in what the boss says, however, with CEOs scoring three points lower than the global average for credibility of information about business. It is much better to work with technical or academic experts in New Zealand. The big variable though is employees, with more New Zealanders believing employees than the global average.NZ Trust 4

But the biggest story for business for me in this first Kiwi Trust Barometer is the potential for New Zealand business to gain significant competitive advantage by using its power to address social challenges. By committing to solving community problems and communicating it, the study shows that business receives higher employee commitment and engagement and through these employees, highly-trusted advocates within the wider society.

The proof? 77 percent of New Zealanders agree that “a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.” Kiwi business has significant license here.NZ Trust 5

By solving societal problems, businesses will accrue employee commitment, motivation, retention and recommendation… and as you will remember… employees are very credible sources of information when it comes to a company’s products and services in New Zealand. The delta between the scores for a company that is engaged in helping to solve a societal issue versus one that is not are considerable and profound.NZ Trust 6

And increasing the commitment and trust of employees in the firms they work for is a definite issue in New Zealand where only 59 percent said they trusted the company they work for to “do what is right,” which is some way behind the global average (65 percent).NZ Trust 7

But what issues should they address? Well, in most cases of course, one that is close to the business’ core activity or area of impact, and one in which it can provide a real and sustained contribution. Notwithstanding this, however, the survey indicates that the top area a business can address in New Zealand is income inequality:NZ Trust 8

Finally, in case anyone is under any illusion that Trust does not confer benefits on business, then please consider this chart:NZ Trust 9

As always, when we are new to a market with the Trust study, we have no trend data and little or no input on what the statistics mean. Hopefully the presentations this week in Auckland and Wellington will start that process. Acumen and I would be very happy to hear any commentary on these findings. But for me, the big one to watch is the trust divide between the informed public and the mass population. If that grows, then perhaps New Zealand too is creating an environment where political populism and anti-establishment sentiment can grow, and who knows where that can lead. A Kiwi Donald Trump?

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