Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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Why Trust in Business is Paramount in a Polarized World

In our ever-changing world, are brands and businesses the only things that people have faith in any longer? Based on the recent 2023 Edelman Trust Survey, it appears the answer is yes. The overall lack of trust across many facets of our society is getting worse, often fueled by social media.

By my observations, the word “trust” has been used in politics more than in any other part of our lives. As a child just getting interested in foreign policy, I can distinctly remember Ronald Reagan quoting the words “trust but verify” during nuclear weapon negotiations with the Soviet Union. That phrase caught on quickly, and I still hear it used today across multiple scenarios. Trust is a foundation for almost every aspect of our lives, relationships, jobs, etc.

But back to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, which shows that business is now viewed as the only global institution to be both competent and ethical. The report reveals that business now holds an overwhelming 53-point lead over government in competence and is 30 points ahead in ethics.


The Edelman report shows that business response to the pandemic and the ultimate return to work impacted this positive showing. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, over 1,000 businesses left the country to protest the illegal actions, which helped continue a 20-point jump on the topic of ethics during the past several years.

“The increased perception of business as ethical brings with it higher than ever expectations of CEOs to be a leading voice on societal issues,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “By a six-to-one margin, on average, respondents want more societal involvement by business on issues such as climate change, economic inequality, and workforce reskilling. But business must tread carefully, more than half (52 percent) of our respondents do not believe business can avoid being politicized when it addresses contentious societal issues.”

Related: Ethics in Public Relations

What is brand trust?

How does Edelman define trust? Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risks and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them.

I’ve found that ‘brand trust’ involves every part of customer interaction with a product or service, from the very first encounter all the way to purchase (and beyond).

When consumers trust a brand, it usually involves them answering yes to some (or all) of the following questions:

  • Is the brand honest and transparent?
  • Is the brand respectful and inclusive?
  • Is the brand one that cares about its customers and its impact on the world?

When I think of the brands and businesses I interact with, they hit on all these characteristics. Having these traits in mind makes it easier to pick brands you feel comfortable engaging with. In fact, there are some brands I have looked at that hit 2 out of the 3 from my list. If it’s a large purchase, I usually make a judgment call as to what level of trust I am comfortable with and go from there.

Overall, consumers today are looking for businesses to behave responsibly, and they want to see altruistic actions. This all plays into gaining trust. And companies cannot take that for granted. The principles that earned you that trust must always be maintained and appreciated.

What brands can do to gain (and keep) the trust of consumers

Trust is something that brands work extremely hard to keep. It takes a lot to earn that trust, and businesses are always looking for ways to maintain it. Here are just a few things brands can do to gain (and keep) trust:

  • Use current information to react swiftly. Do you know what your customers are saying about your business, whether good, bad, or indifferent? Is your target audience reacting and engaging with your messaging? In the lightning-fast world of social media, you need to be able to react (in near real-time) to avoid having minor issues escalate into major ones. Negative reviews can sink a business in record time, so knowing when this is happening is more important than ever!
  • Encourage authenticity in everything you do. Customers today are up to speed on all things media. They can cut through BS while demanding to know what you stand for. This can be accomplished by creating a brand story that reflects your values. This type of commitment to authenticity earns you some equity with the buying public when things inevitably go wrong. If you’ve been upfront with your audience, they are more likely to stand by you.
  • Run a business that welcomes transparency. You really can’t have trust in any relationship if you’re not transparent. This should apply to both your employees and customers. Being upfront about your products, services and values can go a long way toward finding success. But trying to do it with just words isn’t good enough; you need to prove it with your actions.

Related: Earning Trust in a Vicious Cycle Of Distrust Through Communication


I think most will agree that trust is hard to come by these days and that it seems to be getting more difficult and complex. Between the pandemic, politics, and economic uncertainty, it’s not hard to see how these polarizing topics can impact trust.

Being a part of the business world, I’m relieved to see from the Edelman Trust Barometer that brands (and specifically businesses) are maintaining a level of trust while other institutions are unfortunately in decline. Businesses would be smart to not take this for granted. It takes work but is worth it, as trust can often be the deciding factor in a purchase decision.

Trust me on this. 😊

Burrelles monitoring and analytics give you the ability to quickly identify potentially damaging situations in near real-time from all media – print, online, broadcast, and social. Contact us here for more information and to discuss your specific needs.

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