I have just returned from Mumbai and Delhi, visiting our teams and several large clients. While in market, we launched a special Edelman Trust Barometer report that analyzes trust in Indian companies across the country’s six leading export markets. The study was prompted by a continuing low level of trust in companies headquartered in India (30 percent globally; substantially lower in Western markets such as the U.S. at 30 percent and UK at 27 percent). With the existing footprint and evident global ambitions of Indian giants such as Tata, Mahindra, Godrej, Infosys and Bharti, it seemed important to understand the areas of brand strength and weakness. Here are the key conclusions from the report:
1. India Grouped with Other Developing Markets — The historically low level of trust in companies headquartered in India is in line with companies based in other developing markets, whose 2018 trust levels are similarly low: Mexico (32 percent), Brazil (34 percent) and China (36 percent). Data from our new special report revealed that India ranks lowest in the U.S. at 23 percent trust; that is a critical issue in the No.1 potential market in the developed world.
2. Very Low Awareness of Indian Companies and Their Products — Here is the central problem; only 14 percent of respondents have “definitely used a product or service from an Indian company in the past year.” The first step in achieving trust is to establish awareness. There are no hero brands from India; Samsung has been the game changer for South Korea. Nor are there breakthrough industry sectors; even the IT services sector is only trusted by 49 percent of global respondents.
3. Indian Talent Is the Key Asset — Indian engineers, programmers and scientists are considered among the best educated in the world (56 percent). This leads to high trust levels in Indian engineering and innovation, both 48 percent globally, on new products.
4. Good Value for Money and High-Quality Products/Services — The world is divided between developed and developing markets, with UAE, China and Brazil showing a combined 60 percent trust in these attributes, while only 35 percent of those in U.S. and UK agree.
5. Indian Companies Create Opportunity — Again the world is divided on this topic, with nearly two-thirds in the developing world believing that Indian companies are job creators, with greater skepticism (39 percent) in the West, where concerns on outsourcing remain.
6. Treatment of Employees — There is a concern in the West that Indian companies do not pay their employees fairly and do not treat them well in general. This concern also applies to other key markets and is most likely due to a lack of awareness.
7. Trust Deficit for CEOs — Trust in CEOs of Indian companies is very low in the U.S. (25 percent) and the UK (27 percent), again because of low awareness. It is only 40 percent globally. There is also a sense that the values of Indian companies do not match global norms (34 percent agree with the values of Indian companies).
8. Those Who Know Indian Companies Are More Inclined to Appreciate Their Qualities — This is especially true on CEO leadership and engagement attributes such as listening to customer feedback or respect for employees in market.
There is also a healthy desire and support for India to succeed. My meetings with Indian CEOs last week convinced me that there is appetite for changing perceptions. The time is right for a new approach. The Indian corporates care deeply about sustainability, training of employees and affordable innovation for consumers. Perception needs to come into alignment with reality. This will need to be led by CEOs, who must lead from the front and beyond the business, instead of simply letting their work speak for itself.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.