Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Lost Trust

by Mira Ilieva Leonard, Partner, Creative Growth Group

For the past 10 years Edelman, one of the largest and independent public relations firms, has been researching and publishing a study of the state of the global consumer trust. The results have customarily been revealed during an event, called “Edelman’s Trust Breakfast”. Last week for the first time I had the opportunity to attend and observe the discoveries of the most recent study first hand. Because I consider the findings extremely timely and most of them relevant to the professional services field, I thought I’d share them with you:

(i) The state of the consumer trust: US consumers have generally lost trust in the business sector and especially when it comes to certain industries like banking and automotive. Biotech and technology are the least affected areas due to the idea of innovation and hope that consumers attribute to both of these fields.
What that means to professional services firms: biotech and technology will most probably experience the highest growth in the upcoming years and we should position our practices / industry groups for that.

(ii) There are different trust levels based on the size of the business. While consumers have lost trust in corporate America, they will be most willing to trust small size and entrepreneurial organizations because they know the leaders (who understand and are hands-on involved with the organizations and have direct control over them) and are overall transparent.
What that means to professional services firms: look for opportunities with emerging small and entrepreneurial organizations.

(iii) What sources would consumers trust? Surprisingly internet doesn’t appear as a reliable source even with the young generation. Market analysts and business articles seem to be some of the most credible sources, though friends and employees follow very closely.
What that means to professional services firms: websites with our own statements are no longer enough. Include client testimonials and quotes from current and alumni employees in your materials. Give your advocates venues like web site, events and annual reports to underwrite you.

(iv) How long does it take to make a message visible and believable? The marketing communication norm that it takes 3x to communicate a message for it to register is no longer valid. Given the current consumer cynicism it appears it takes closer to 5x for a message to make an impact and to become believable.
What that means to professional services firms: increase the frequency and consistency of your messaging. Keep in mind your statements will be questioned, so be clear, precise and consistent.

(v) How do we build and sustain trust and relationships given the current consumer cynicism?
a. Diplomacy - demonstrate your corporate responsibility; take a stand on global issues like regulatory ones; get your leaders out in the community and make sure they are actively involved and offering solutions.

b. Social responsibility - clients and their customers will be looking for what your organization stands for and how you go about demonstrating that. If being “green” is important to your organization make sure your clients know about it, not only by telling them but also by showing them.

c. Shared sacrifices – “walk the talk”; communicate to your clients and prospects what your organization is doing to share their burden (i.e. instead of spending on a large client Holiday party make a donation on their behalf, etc.)

d. Continuous conversation – open two way communication lines with your clients via blogs, intranets, client interviews, etc. More than ever clients would like to share with you their experience, both good and bad, and in order to keep their trust you should be willing to listen and take notes.

e. The bottom line: service and leadership as well as authenticity and transparency will matter the most in sustaining and building relationships.

For a copy of Edelman’s Trust study visit the following website:

No comments: