When the banking crisis in 2009 caused trust levels throughout the world to plummet to new depths, I believed that we would be in a far better place now six years on. I was wrong.
Trust has now receded back to these low figures but with the key missing factor that there has been no major recession. There have of course been major catalysts of disruption (Ebola, the Sony hack and the FX trading scandal), but even these don’t clearly demonstrate a reason why trust levels are so low.
There are many reasons – but one of the contributing facts that leapt out and shocked me, thanks to Edelman Berland research that forms the Edelman Trust Barometer, is due to innovation.
As Edelman Berland’s chief innovation officer, the fact that innovation, the saviour in my mind that generates growth and value, could even be mentioned in the same sentence as something negative shocked me. How can innovation cause problems? When a new technology app helps people to stay fit or keep in touch with their families cheaper and easier – how can this be a problem?
The problem isn’t with innovation but instead with its pace. It’s too quick and often without control.
A few key facts:
- Twice as many people think innovation is too fast
- Three times as many people think that innovation is only about profit and greed but not for worldly benefits
- Four times as many people believe that innovation needs government regulation but fear government cannot do it
This great discomfort with the pace of innovation (albeit less felt by Millennials) is most pronounced in the developed world where great leaps of “improvement” have created fracking and GMO.
Pandora’s box is open and innovation has flooded out a maddening pace.
But, the speed of change was not mirrored by the control that should map onto it. People want to be able to engage, comment and opt out but frequently can’t. Life is not “Field of Dreams” – just because we can build it, doesn’t mean people want it. If a customer can’t see the link between a new innovated product and their problem then the brand has a problem too. Innovation doesn’t start and stop with the “what is the new product?” but instead needs the foundational support of “how” and “why” too. Trust is an essential ingredient to innovation. Where there is high trust in institutions, the trust in innovations is often higher. And where there is an understanding of benefits and that an innovation is borne not out of a firm’s desire to gain profit but to be of value, there is higher trust in innovation, or Trusted Innovation, as Edelman calls it.
This is where Edelman and communication marketing fits in. Only through dialogue, engagement and participation can brands link reputation and marketing. Advertising will only broadcast a message. Innovation will always be needed but without a purpose it will be seen as a negative solution.
Jonny Bentwood is chief innovation officer at Edelman Berland.