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Posted by on Feb 5, 2014 | 2 comments

9 Need-to-Know Facts About Brand Trust and Creating Brand Value


2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, brand trust, how to build brand value

How to build brand trust today, with insights from The Edelman Trust Barometer

I originally launched this blog to deal with research, issues and insights around brand trust, one of the most critical factors for brand success and the one with, arguably, the biggest impact on our business-and-brand-centric society as a whole. Consequently, for the last several years, one of my favorite pieces of research has been The Edelman Brand Trust Barometer, a global index of trust in business and government.

As encouragement for you all to read it, and to use it as a lens through which to consider what Don Peppers likes to call your brand’s “trustability,” here are 9 top factors, with initial ruminations on how and why they will impact your business in 2014 and beyond.

1.  There has been a steady rise in “belief in business”
Before jumping up and down about how much consumers love business, it’s important to observe that this rise has been from the deep hole that business – led by the financial services sector – dug for itself in 2008.  It also reflects the downward spiral in trust in government, as people need somewhere to turn in an era when trust in government has been steadily disintegrating. Still, all caveats aside, there is a great opportunity in this rise:  the opportunity for business to help shape positive change in its relationships with consumers, change that can, among other benefits, promote innovation by helping set the context and nature of regulation which might otherwise impede product development and other business innovation or risk-taking.

2.  84% of consumers believe business can serve itself and society, too
With trust comes expectation, and consumers not only believe in the “doing well by doing good” maxim, they increasingly expect that, as the report notes, “there must be thoughtful consideration given [by business] to arguments that address emotion and risk, as well as societal benefit.” In other words, consumers not only believe that you and your brand can wear the white hat of Consumer Social Responsibility, they also appear to want you to go beyond typical, image-burnishing CSR and develop a more holistic attitude toward the consumers and world you serve (a complete discussion of serving before selling will have to wait; however, a favorite entry point can be found in my guest post on Convince and Convert, about the big opportunity in Jay Baer’s concept of Youtility).  I like Richard Edelman’s summative encouragement to business:

“We strongly urge business to take the chance to redefine value as being also about values.”                                                          2014 Edelman Trust Barometer 

3.   The dramatic drop in trust in government is an opening for U.S. business
It’s interesting to note that the Trust Barometer reports that “trust among informed publics” (my emphasis) took a particularly big hit in 2014 – down 16% in the U.S.  The upside, of course, is that for businesses willing to serve those informed publics with, say, information rather than just self-promotion, brands can help fill the trust vacuum that I allude to in the first point above.

4.  NGOs are the most trusted organizations
It may seem an irrelevant-to-business-no-brainer that non-governmental organizations – focused on service and presumably less driven by self-interest – would be seen as the most trustworthy types of organization. Yet it is exactly that nature of trust which reinforces the need for businesses, in effect, to act more like NGOs, serving before selling, and taking a holistic view of the world and their potentially positive place in it.

5.  Business is not trusted to self-regulate
Consumers may be feeling better about business than they did in 2008, but the past five years have also convinced them that more, not less, regulation is in order.  The report puts it this way:

The opportunity for business to earn the license to lead that emerged in the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer still exists and is stronger than ever… But this permission is conditional. Business is not trusted to self-regulate… [It] must foster an informed conversation that provides the context necessary to create regulation that is relevant and as effective in its ability to protect as it is in its ability to move society and business forward. To be credible, this context must connect business value with external values and demonstrate solutions-oriented actions.”

Pay particular attention to that last line: “…connect business value with external values and demonstrate solutions-oriented actions.”

Create business value by first serving bigger societal values.  Demonstrate this by actions, not words.  Offer solutions to real problems, both in your marketing and you products.

6.  People trust people more than holding companies
Edelman reports that “family-owned and small- and medium-sized businesses outperformed big businesses” in terms of trust. In short, people trust people, and brands that can consistently act like they come from less-than-galactic organizations should enjoy a boost in trust and the brand loyalty that flows from it.

7.  While general trust in business is up, trust in business leaders is low
Guess who ranks just as low as government leaders in public trust?  Your C-Suite.  While the report notes “trust in the person leading the company is inextricably linked with trust in the company itself,” only 20% of people trust business leaders to “tell the truth and make ethical and moral decisions.”  The flip side to this awful portrait of untrustworthiness is the upside opportunity to differentiate your brand by differentiating your executive behavior.  This is not a matter of positioning but of action, of self-evidence.

The report queried respondents as to what exactly would help restore trust in CEOs, and the actions “that ranked highest included

  • Communicating clearly and transparently (82%),
  • Telling the truth regardless of how complex or unpopular it is (81%)
  • Engaging with employees regularly (80%)

8. Consumers want to hear directly from employees
Related to the fact that consumers want business leadership to be engaged with the rank-and-file employee is the notion that consumers want to hear what employees think. It’s back to the reality that people trust people, and brands will be wise to enlist employees as spokespeople, formal or not, with whom customers can directly relate.

9.  Search engines and traditional media are the most trusted sources
You may not be surprised that search engines are relied upon, and seen as reliable, for information-finding… but traditional media?  How uncool – but also how necessary it is to mix things up in your media planning if you want to reach consumers with your story.

The report also reminds us that reach and frequency still go together, and people need to see your story three to five times before they believe it.  (A perverse side-note: those dying newspapers are still considered a more trusted source of general information than television).

My net takeaway? Building brand trust can build brand value, but only if trust transcends being a brand positioning posture and comes to occupy a secure spot in the heart of your brand’s character and business’ culture.

What do you do to build trust in your brands?  What other brands to you see doing the hard work of trust building?


  1. While I agree with your article Chuck I have major issues with Edelman who are mostly self serving vs client serving. That said…here is the biggest disconnect.

    The Economist publish an article on advertising and in polling in the US and Europe they asked about specific major brands and it showed that 92% of them would not be missed if they disappeared tomorrow.

    So that just reinforces your point….businesses could step in but they haven’t done so and thus no one cares about them.

    And to be honest I think 92% is low! The problem is the Corporation exists to make money for its upper management and stockholders. 80% of US jobs make $33000 on average which means 80% of workers can give a flying …. about their employers.

    And when I have mentioned this to Edelman and others that to truly buold trust employees need to be paid more….crickets.

    • Howie, Thanks for weighing in.
      I don’t have any business experience with Edelman, although I’ve interviewed one of their execs, so I’ll forego either joining or disagreeing with your judgement.

      That said, agencies, like most businesses – at least public ones –  are by fiduciary requirement self-serving, that is, they are obligated to serve the interests of their shareholders first. Quite the corporate mindset to overcome if there is also the opportunity to serve shareholders best by truly being a servant brand to consumers. Toss in the inherent selfishness of human behavior (chalk it up to a built-in mandate for self-preservation, if you want to give humanity the benefit of the doubt) and you’ve got to question whether any company or its leadership is to be trusted. Still, all of that negativity perpetually presents the positive opportunity to differentiate a brand by radically stepping into the territory Jay Baer begins to describe in his book “Youtility,” a still largely unexplored territory of helping first and foremost. And to your last point, helping needs to be across the spectrum, including fairly paid employees.

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