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Global Practices

The Relevance of Trust

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Note: The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer results will be released next week.

I recently presented our 2013 version of our global study, the Edelman Trust Barometer, to a group of 50 communicators from a client that is a leading global supplier of technology and services. The client group, comprised a mix of people responsible for media relations, marketing communications and digital marketing/e-commerce, was highly engaged and asked questions throughout the presentation. Here’s what they found most relevant:

  • Search Engines as a Trusted Source – this was a big eye opener for the group. The notion that a search engine is a highly credible source led to a discussion about advancing the client’s social footprint and how strategically they can impact simple things like terminology and sort. The company is conservative and therefore careful about how it shows up digitally. But it was clear the people in the room were eager to push the digital boundaries.
  • Paradigm of Shifting to a Media Company – one gentleman asked about the effectiveness of the company’s media center, commenting that it simply pushes out press releases. The discussion about shifting toward a media company model was very enticing and they agreed this was an important shift they needed to make.
  • The Role of Reputation in the Manufacturing Sector – the notion of supply chain transparency, innovation and the inherent trend of B-to-B companies moving to a B-to-C environment for greater brand relevance and business benefit was of great interest to them. Finally, the data point that suggests about 1 in 5 globally favor greater regulation for business led to a conversation about the client’s license to operate. This really hit home for them.
  • Premise of Activating Employees as Reputation Ambassadors – The group was surprised that “a person like me” and an “employee of the company” were highly trusted third-party sources of information. The proposition of doing more with its thousands of U.S. employees was a point of discussion.
  • Engagement vs. Ethics. vs. Operational Excellent as Reputation Drivers – one of the senior communicators commented that leading with news about the company’s strong financial performance is no longer enough. Very true. The concept of the 5 major reputation categories and 16 elements was an eye opener for the group and I pressed them to consider their own bespoke reputation research within this framework.
  • Control vs. Engagement – perhaps the most difficult hurdle for our clients is how to manage the transition from control to public engagement and this was evident during the discussion. We need to remember that cultural, political or other factors require patience and an evolutionary approach.

The presentation was a good reminder of how valuable our Trust data is; it advances our ability to have a rich, deeply informed conversation with our clients about the intersection of trust, reputation and communications.

One final point I want to make. Joseph Stiglitz recently penned a column in The New York Times titled “In No One We Trust.” It examined the socio-economic realities of today’s society that have created a great trust deficit. The column calls into question the growing divide between the rich and poor, the erosion of our values and need for stricter policies and greater regulation of business. Stiglitz says, “Strong values enable us to live in harmony with one another. Without trust, there can be no harmony, nor can there be a strong economy.” Our 2013 Trust data shows a major shift in what stakeholders value. It’s no longer good enough for a company to post strong financial returns. Today, stakeholders demand that companies listen and act on customer feedback, treat employees well, place customers ahead of profits and adopt ethical business practices.

Given Trust 2014 is right around the corner this reminder – for all of us – is most timely.

Kevin Cook is managing director of Edelman Chicago’s Corporate practice.

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