Trust is vital to business. But how do we build brand-trust and who’s responsible?

Posted Oct 21, 2021
🇬🇧 English

You can also read this article in Norwegian 🇳🇴

According to The 2020 Edelman trust barometer «More than 70% of consumers link purchase to considerations that historically were tied to trust in corporations, including supply chain, reputation, values, environmental impact and customer before profit». How do you build brand-trust and who’s responsibility is it?

Trust is Paramount in Uncertain Times 

In recent years, people’s expectations for brands have evolved, brands now play a larger role in our lives and in our society. Consumers know that brands have the power to effect change, and they place their trust in brands that use that power on their behalf. That trust has a real economic impact on brands.

The research shows that, the most trusted brands, the brands that make a difference in consumer’s lives and society are rewarded. Betrayals of trust have significant financial consequences. Growing trust, by contrast, improves performance. Trusted businesses are given greater latitude and support to define their direction. This makes trust paramount, especially in uncertain times. Uncertain times are a testing ground for your brand promise. Will your brand back up its brand promise with action when times are tough? 

So, what increases trust in a brand? 

According to the Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer and a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR), trust is built on two components: Competence and ethics.

Let’s start with the first one: 

Brands are evaluated on their ability to create and deliver a product or service. To be regarded as a competent brand, your goal is to operate effectively, endure over time, and emerge from challenging times stronger than before. You do this by shoring up operations, managing communications and having a strong presence with your stakeholders.

The two facets of competence are technical and social: Technical competence is built and showcased by delivering on the question; «Can you deliver and innovate?». Social competence is built and showcased by delivering on the question; «Do you understand your business environment and can you respond to change?».

According to Edelman, ethical drivers are 3X more important to company trust than competence. Leaders need to balance stakeholder interests and brands need to offer relevant information and keep telling the positive stories connected to their solutions, also in challenging times.

To evaluate your organization’s ethics, helpful questions suggested by the HBR study authors are:

  • Is your company motivated to serve others’ interests as well as its own? 
  • Does your company use fair means to achieve its goals?
  • Does your company take responsibility for all its impact?

Looking at these 3 questions, it is clear that brand-trust is not the responsibility of the marketing department, but has to be at the forefront of the minds of the entire executive group, owners, boards, managers and employees. 

What’s new then?

Trust has always played a big part in brand-building and business. So, you may ask yourself what’s new now? Expectations of purpose is. 87% of Edelman Trust study respondents indicated that stakeholders, not shareholders, are most important to long-term company success. Put in the words of Rob Norman at Group M, the world’s largest media agency; «business must have a wider purpose than simply profit in order to justify their existence». We are colored by the Covid-19 pandemic. Off course we are. When the world faces a health and economic threat of this size and degree of impact, it changes things. Or accelerates things that were already in slow change ahead of the crisis. And that’s why challenging times as these,  demand lasting change.

So, increasingly, organizations are considering how to protect their stakeholders: employees, customers, leaders and investors, cause as Norman says; ““If we fight to only minimize investor losses, the consequential loss in other parts of the business and eventually to the underlying assets, will be catastrophic.”

So what stakeholders and what tasks do you need to ensure you look after when building trust in uncertain times?

  • Your employees
  • Your customers
  • Your executive leadership
  • Your investors

Competent and Ethical Brands Are Players, Not Spectators. They take a stand, engage and act. They practice great leadership, towards all stakeholders. 

It is a leader’s responsibility to share vision, mission, direction and ideas and to make sense of this uncertain and complex time for stakeholders.

CEOs and executive teams build trust

Leadership is not just an executive function, great leadership shows up at all levels during challenging times. With that said, CEOs are also among the most trusted leaders in the world. Their influence can have a great impact in combating the spread of coronavirus. Stakeholders expect to hear from leaders and expect businesses to lead the way in shaping the future of society.

In the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer study, 92% of employees surveyed say that they expect their employer’s CEO to speak up on issues ranging from income inequality to diversity and training for jobs of the future. 

Crises Are a Test of Brand’s Soul. As we’ve learned, brands are increasingly committing to being purpose driven, responding to consumer expectations to lead the way in making a better world. 73% of the 2020 Edelman Trust study respondents agreed that a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve conditions in communities where it operates.

More than ever, brands, especially those that have weathered times of uncertainty before, are needed to reassure the broader community. This is an opportunity to show up, demonstrate leadership and inspire hope using trust as the foundation of your brand presence, now and going forward. Naturally, because of the nature of this challenge, businesses will be impacted differently and will need to respond accordingly. For brands that have the means, invest in your stakeholders, helping them acclimate to our new reality and wherever possible, take action to sustain the greater community where you operate. 

Maria Øverli Jansson
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