How to Market in the Post-Trust Society

October 4, 2017

Advertising Week Currency of Trust

It’s not difficult to make the case that we live in a post-trust society.

As research from the Edelman Trust Barometer shows, trust in major institutions declined in 2017. Trust in non-governmental organizations fell from 55% in 2016 to 53% this year, according to Edelman. Trust in business (53%/52%), media (48%/43%), and government (42%/41%) also declined. In this era of “fake news,” distrust of the media reigns in 82% of countries with trust in media at an all-time low in 17 countries, according to Edelman data.     

What does this all mean for marketers? A panel, “The Currency of Trust,” which took place at last month’s Advertising Week New York, examined this question.

Ben Boyd, who is President-Practices/Sectors at Edelman, set the stage of rampant distrust — just in case anybody had any doubt. Boyd’s data showed that just 29% of people surveyed said they trusted government officials. A small percentage more trust CEOs (38%). A few more trust employees (48%), and 60% trust “people like themselves.”

In these rather discouraging statistics, businesses may see a little light, especially considering that 51% of people surveyed believe that business can do more to solve social problems than government can. Additionally, 75% of people surveyed agree with the statement: “A company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.”

So, how can marketers present their products and services as solutions in this post-truth world? One way is to put customers at the center of the equation, said panelist Elizabeth Rutledge, EVP-Global Advertising and Brand Management, American Express. She said American Express has long focused on remaining trusted and keeping customers happy, because these customers are the trusted peers of other potential customers. “One of our key KPIs,” Rutledge said, “is the customer’s willingness to refer a friend.”

Another panelist, Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Groupe, did not dispute the necessity for customer centricity, but he did notice an inconsistency in how trust apparently works in today’s world. If it’s true that people distrust their peers, why is it that they distrust the media when, in this age of social media, everybody has the means to be a journalist?, he asked. “One of the reasons that people don’t trust the media is that they have become the media,” Tobaccowala joked.

But even in a post-trust era, businesses must be extremely careful about being transparent, open, and honest. “Facts are stubborn things,” Tobaccowala said, adding: “You can’t fool people for too long.”

Many companies are turning to their employees, carefully educating and equipping them to communicate the brand message — in person, on the phone, via email, and on social media. “The most underleveraged asset of my clients, without fail, is their employee base,” Boyd said.

A crucial part of this movement to have employees be brand ambassadors is having the employees represent a product or service that is worth talking about. “Cutting your advertising budget to make a product or service better is the right way to think in today’s world,” Tobaccowala said.

None of these recommendations by the panel are supremely easy to implement, and all of them require a long-term commitment by brands. “Trust," Penry Price, LinkedIn’s VP-Marketing Solutions and the panel’s moderator, said, "is consistency over time.”  

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