A Matter of Trust: Thoughts on Edelman’s Trust Barometer

Trusted companies make staff and customers happy, outperforming their rivals. But brands must never forget: trust is earned.

Edelman has just published its 19th Trust Barometer, the yearly report that gauges people’s trust in private and public institutions across the world. As always, it’s a deep well of insight into the way the world perceives its societal institutions. There are lessons for leaders in government, business, NGOs and the media – and this year there’s good news, as the levels of trust are rising across the board.

When it comes to trust in business, the 2019 barometer focuses very much on the experience and expectations of staff. Its findings include that:

  • People trust their employer – more so than they trust business in general
  • Employees who trust their employer are far more likely to be loyal advocates for them
  • Employees expect companies to act on societal issues
  • CEOs are expected to lead the change

Employees have high expectations of brands, punishing those who fail to live up to their expectations. Conversely, trusted brands are rewarded: Edelman’s research shows that high-trust companies outperform rivals in their sector: over the course of 2018, 31 highly trusted US companies provided a 5% higher return on investment than the sector average.

Motivated, trusting and empowered employees do boost brand performance, but our data tells us exactly the same is true of customers. A great brand image, faithfully delivered, also does wonders for the duration and value of customer relationships, with a corresponding lift to the bottom line.


What we talk about when we talk about trust

So business can turn trust to its advantage, but only if we first understand what it means to trust and be trusted. If trust is a belief in someone or something – their reliability, fidelity or ability – then it’s an essential ingredient in any meaningful relationship. But how does it get there?

There’s no shortcut. Optimists might begin from a position of trust, only losing faith when the reality is disappointing, whereas a pessimist might trust nothing and nobody, and only give trust when it’s earned. In all cases, though, trust is dependent on actions: trustworthy actions earn trust where there is none and maintain it when does exist. Untrustworthy actions destroy it.

For organizations, Edelman breaks trust into four dimensions:

  • Ability: the perception that the organisation is good at what it does
  • Dependability: the expectation that it will keep promises
  • Integrity: the conviction that it’s honest
  • Purpose: the sentiment that it is trying to have a positive impact on society

If trust is only given and maintained when its deserved, then organizations need to earn trust with their actions, across the breadth of their operation.


What do you expect?

No doubt, a lot of trust in an organisation rests in its leadership. The C-suite, and particularly the CEO, must lead when defining the purpose, beliefs and identity of the brand, but it’s not just an internal exercise. As Edelman puts it, stakeholders “want CEOs to act beyond reproach when it comes to speaking the truth. Candour, honesty and transparency are all powerful trust-building elements. [Expectations are high] that CEOs will embody the values and mission of the organization they lead.”

Increasingly, the CMO also has a leading role in establishing and maintaining trust in the brand, which includes the ongoing challenge of brand safety. Aside from their need to also act with honesty and transparency, today’s CMO presides over the bulk of a brand’s public-facing persona. With increasing ownership of customer experience, CMOs have the opportunity to directly strengthen three of Edelman’s four dimensions in trust, by repeatedly demonstrating the brand’s ability, dependability and integrity.

Much of the opportunity to earn trust comes down to delivering or exceeding people’s expectations in these areas, and that can only happen where brand behavior matches the brand’s espoused identity and values, at every point where brand and customer interact. Throughout the customer journey, the business must facilitate customer intent in a way that meets customer expectations – including the goals implied or defined by the brand’s own identity.


“Trust is a bet that stakeholders place, trusting that the organization will deliver against their positive expectations.”

Antoine Harary, global managing director, Edelman Intelligence

Operating at scale, across multiple channels, with many thousands of customers, it’s a neat trick to pull off. Delivering against high expectations means viewing every single interaction from the customer perspective – understanding not only what’s expected in the moment, but the history of what’s gone before, and the context behind what’s happening now.

Deliver behavior worthy of trust

By doing what it does well, keeping its promises, and being honest and faithful in every interaction, a brand has the opportunity to nurture and preserve the trust at the heart of its customer relationships. Engaged, trusting customers will enjoy more meaningful relationships, which are more valuable to everyone.

In a scaled up, digital enterprise, every facet of the business – across channels and touchpoints – needs to act with the best understanding of what each individual customer wants and expects at that given moment. Delivering behavior to match high expectations is the only way to nurture trust, and at scale it’s only possible with advanced analysis, insight and orchestration tools that help guide brand decisions and behavior in real time.

As we say, this is a neat trick to pull off, but it’s exactly what the Thunderhead ONE Engagement Hub was built for.

If you want to discover how ONE can help you deliver on expectations, earning and sustaining the trust of your stakeholders, why not get in touch?