Public relations firm Edelman released their sixth annual global trust barometer study, available online (click the chart).
Among the opinion leaders surveyed, "someone like yourself or your peer" is the most trusted source of information about a company, exceeding even doctors and academics in most of the countries they surveyed. And we have much greater access to the opinions of "people like me" through the internet.
If people lose trust in your company, they won't purchase your products or services (70-80%), they'll tell other people bad things about you (70-80%), they won't invest in your shares (65-75%), and they won't even work for you (40-50%).
The communications channels that worked so well in the past-- controlled messaging to specific stakeholder groups like investors, analysts, employees and customers -- are being supplanted by horizontal peer-to-peer communications. Articles in business magazines are still a trusted source of information about a company, right up there with family, friends, and peers.
Beyond this lack of confidence in traditional sources of information, they see a "yearning to move beyond the simple act of consumption of information to social networking."
Remember that co-creation trend we talked about a few days ago? Well here it is again.
Edelman's recommendation? "Smart companies must reinvent communications thinking, moving away from a reliance on top-down messages delivered through mass advertising."
Other ways to develop trust:
The most important drivers of trust are company of origin (not easy to change), industry (not easy to change) and company behaviors (this ball's in your court).
Quality: the quality of your products and services is a key driver, but not sufficient (Sony piracy scandal).
Accountability: companies that put their name on their products show that they are accountable. Unilever realized a big lift in their trust ratings as a result of putting their corporate brand on their packaging: people know them now, not just their brands.
Attentiveness to customers: showing you understand and care about their needs, (P&G).
Employees: Showing concern for employees is especially important in some labour markets. But communicating with your employees is also critical: "they want contextual information on the business, including the company's strategic direction, how decisions are made, and competitive issues."
Being socially responsible: participating in disaster relief efforts (Wal-Mart), being environmentally responsible (GE), and cleaning up your third-world-labour issues (Nike) are all good for increasing trust. The social responsibility program must be consistent with your core brand values to make an impact.
CEO: celebrity CEOs are no longer a trusted source of information. In fact, CEOs and CFOs are now among the least trusted sources of information.
However distasteful it may be, you are going to need to become more transparent, more open, more consistent in all your activities if you are going to build and keep a strong brand. To get the dialogue going, look at how Amazon has brought customers into the communication and co-creation of the product, and see what you can borrow or build on from them.