Prword Smith

The New Rules for Building Brands We Love

This is a long post – without apology. It was written for Brand Strategy magazine (March 2007 edition). This year we have seen exceptionally strong interest from media, clients, NGOs and academics around the Trust survey results. Everyone wants to understand trust it seems. More articles in the pipeline. Although I am tempting fate, I do feel as if I may start to blog a little more frequently. For those of you still wanting to know about bloggers block….well I was surprised and slightly embarassed by the number of emails I got a) encouraging me to blog more and b) disappointed when I didn’t. Finally, he sighed, I have a public (albeit tiny). So although this blog is mainly for me – I want to thank those who encouraged me in the last few months to find the time to blog more.

1. Introduction

The deadline for this article was Valentine’s Day – and that set me thinking. In the ‘90s, brand managers were told customers should be ‘surprised and delighted’ by the brand experience – not just ‘satisfied’. I recently heard a brand manager articulating that his aim was for consumers to walk into a store already slavishly intent on purchasing his brand. If that is how we want the consumer to feel, then we are way beyond ‘surprising and delighting’. We are entering the territory of brand ‘love’ – and what is the essential ingredient of an enduring love? Trust.

2. Measuring Trust

The Edelman Trust Barometer is in its seventh year. It began with 1,300 people in five countries and has grown to encompass the opinions of 3,100 in 18 countries. It is the first truly global survey on trust we have fielded and, we believe, is the only one of its kind. The results must be seen in the context of the sample’s demographic, namely: college-educated; between 36 and 64 years old; report a household income in the upper quartile for their country; and show a significant interest in and engagement with the media and current affairs. Traditionally we describe these people as the ‘chattering classes’. However, with the shifting sands of demographics and the arrival of more fluid consumer mindsets, this description is barely adequate. Ultimately, we feel that these people are influential in the broadest sense.

3. Towards a PR-led Model for Trust

The PowerPoint presentation containing the analysis of all the results is 556 slides long. So, this article will focus on highlighting the various dimensions of trust into which those surveyed give us an insight:-

  • do they trust institutions to ‘do the right thing’ (government, media, business, NGOs)?
  • do they trust a specific organization ‘to do the right thing’?
  • what channels do they trust when looking for information to form an opinion?
  • what spokespeople do they trust as deliverers of a message?
  • what behaviours will build trust?

When we unpack the full data for a particular brand, these dimensions provide the basis for a model for a PR-led communications strategy which will build up and protect brand equity in the form of trust. The model has six stages:-

  1. benchmark trust relative to other brands in and outside your sector and map how trust varies with geography for local insights
  2. understand and quantify the issues which drive trust and distrust for the brand
  3. define what organisational behaviours and communications strategies build trust for the audience
  4. decide on local visible actions which will build trust
  5. identify the most credible media and spokespeople for your brand for each relevant geography
  6. execute the communications strategy in market and monitor results

4. Trends Which Add Depth And Colour To The Trust Model

Trust in Institutions Is Fluid And Underpins Fundamental Changes In How We Form Opinions

The Trust Barometer survey shows how trust in various institutions has varied over the last seven years. These trends are the context within which a brand will need to adjust its trust-building communications strategies annually.


Business: The long-term trend in trust in business is positive, moving from 44% in 2001 to a seven-year high of 53% in 2007 in the USA. In Europe, trust in business has been stable over the last seven years and seems to have settled at an average of 36% over the past three years.

NGOs: Long-term trends in trust for NGOs in USA have risen steadily over a seven year period from 36% to 57%. Trust in NGOs has been higher in the USA than in Europe for the past three years. Trust in NGOs in China, which jumped sharply in 2005, now match the levels of trust enjoyed by NGOs in the USA and Europe.

Media: In Europe, trust in traditional media has been slowly declining since 2003 (32%) to 25% in 2007. Trust in media in the USA essentially mirrored the European trend until 2007, when US trust in media jumped sharply to 43% (compared with 25% in Europe).

Government: Trust in Government is driven by the approval ratings of the day in a particular country. However, at a European level, overall trust ratings are relatively stable – although 2007 saw a drop to a new low of 22%. In the USA, trust in Government is going through a low patch compared with its long term average and sits currently at 38% for 2007 and 2006.

That’s A Capital L in A/S/L

One of the earliest trends that the survey quantified was the impact on trust of the perceived country of origin. We cannot unpack all of the results here but it is interesting to observe that, in the US, respondents have the highest levels of trust for companies perceived to be Canadian, British or Swedish.

Unfortunately for American companies, the feeling is not reciprocated. The Canadians place their highest trust in their own companies, the British and the Swedes – with American companies coming in at eleventh in 2007.

Overall, Europeans place most trust in companies from Sweden, Canada and Germany. Europeans place least trust in companies from the BRIC countries and Mexico.

Brands Need To Find New Ways To Access Peer-2-Peer Consumer Dialogue

When asked what sources of information they trust, every region put ‘conversations with friends and colleagues’ in their top three most trusted sources. Traditional media are still well trusted by comparison but the rise of the influence of a ‘person like me’ has not fallen back. In a world where we trust traditional media and spokespeople less, we are turning to those closest to us for additional endorsement of our views.

Brands have to learn new tricks if they are to find ways to connect in horizontal conversations between peers which, by their very definition, the brands have not been invited to join.

New Levels of Trust In Business Mean Brands Can Go ‘Beyond FAB’

In every region, more people believe that business has a positive impact on society rather than a negative one. At a country level, only the UK and Germany have higher percentages believing that business has a negative impact on society.

The implication? Strong brands have never had more explicit permission to play a role in societal change – whether it’s campaigning for a new view of ‘Real Beauty’ or reminding us all that ‘Dirt Is Good’. Brands can and should be bolder in seeking emotional common ground with consumers on social issues – and that means communicating more than FAB.

To Be Global Or Local, That Is The Question (Actually It’s Not)

There are few people left working in big business who are not part of a complicated matrix reporting structure which delicately tries to balance the needs of the centre compared with the needs of a local market. The following chart provides a unique insight into how certain countries have a preference for a global company to present a local face. This is a truly powerful data set and it should be informing communications strategies for any organisation or brand.

5. On Death and Taxes (The Only Certainties in Life)

It is risky to predict the future feelings of a group whose opinions are notoriously volatile. It is also true that any predictions not drawn from a small thesis run the risk of being an over-simplification of extremely complex issues. The following thoughts, however, may hold water until confirmed or disproved by next year’s survey.

USA Trust In NGOs Sustained – Trust in business has recovered but the key trend is the sustained levels of trust in NGOs in the USA, which has emerged in the last three years. This is a broad indicator that the US is catching up with Europe on the concept of a stakeholder economy driven by consensus (as opposed to a shareholder economy where financial results are the only relevant performance indicator). Put it another way, America appears ready to talk with NGOs and trust them more than ever before to be partners in a dialogue about society and the economy.

Developing Countries Put Their Faith in Business – There are key differences in the way trust is viewed in the developing and developed worlds. The developing world (the BRIC countries) puts more trust in business, brands, CEO spokespeople and traditional sources of information than do developing countries. NGOs enjoy lower trust than business in the developing world. Perhaps these countries, at a macro level, see business as the route to economic success. And, once economic prosperity is stable and assured, they will be ready to trust and engage with NGOs on issues that affect the broader health of their societies.

Employees Really Are A Brand’s Best Ambassadors II (The Sequel) – People trust the opinions of employees more than ever before. Consequently, if a brand is not creating evangelists out of its own employees, then it is missing out on a possible resurgence in a tried and trusted form of influencer marketing. If your employees don’t feel passionate about the brand, how will your consumers? For CEOs reading this article, if your marketing managers are not investing in employee engagement, you probably should be considering it.

Web 2.0 Is Not About Technology, It’s About Passion – Online sources are trusted, but less so than traditional media by this group (remember they are 34-65 years old). This is a revolution that is probably under-indexing in this demographic. Big brands are experimenting with the new online environment. The web has rediscovered itself as a laboratory for new ways of communicating. My prediction is that trust in online sources of information, blogs and bloggers themselves will rise over the next few years as a younger generation of non-newsprint reading 20-somethings finds itself captured in our survey. The communications industry will see a fundamental shift in the product it sells driven by this trend. The blogging and social media phenomenon will then be truly mainstream. And what it is already facilitating is truly exciting: a huge groundswell of people finding self-expression and creativity. People finding others online who share the same passions. And tapping into people’s passion is the elusive emotional connection that brands seek – the marketeer’s Holy Grail. Brands that can engage in this storm of consumer-generated content will be able to generate powerful relationships through innovative, engaging dialogue. PR agencies will increasingly be in the business of co-creating engaging content with the consumer. Furthermore creating entertaining content will no longer be the preserve of consumer brand marketing programmes – this trend is already filtering into the world of corporate and B2B marketing.

Trusted Brands Will Increasingly Drive Societal Change – Government public information campaigns, traditionally advertising-led, are suffering just as much from the drop in trust in advertising as consumer brands. Combine this with low trust in government and it is not difficult to see that driving societal and behavioural change is going to need new techniques and new approaches. Rising levels of trust in business suggest that brands should and could play a deeper role. Apart from anything, it allows brands to create a dialogue with consumers on an entirely different emotional level. So an increase in the number of brands choosing to align themselves around an issues-led campaign model is a further prediction.

6. The Rules Are Being Re-written. So, What Are You Doing on Monday?

The Trust Barometer survey provides data that can inform powerful conversations about the state of trust for a brand at a global, regional and local level. The survey shows us additional insights into why a brand may be trusted or distrusted and what organisational behaviours and communications techniques drive trust and distrust amongst the target group. The most important thing, however, as with all surveys, is not so much what they tell us but rather how we chose to act on the insights they provide. So, if music be the food of love, then I commend you to use the trends highlighted here to feed a review of your global communications strategy. The rules are changing and so our brand strategies must too.

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