The Past is Another Country

Late January 2020 saw the release of the 20th Edelman TRUST BAROMETER™. Edelman is an American public relations and marketing consultancy firm, and the TRUST BAROMETER™ is the firm’s annual trust and credibility survey. What began as a survey of 1,300 people in five countries, has grown into a global measurement of trust across the world. The TRUST BAROMETER™ is produced by Edelman Intelligence—the organization’s integrated research, analytics and measurement division.

The results of the survey aren’t necessarily startling: people are shifting their trust to relationships within their control—such as with their employers. However, the findings also indicate the truism that ‘the past is another country.’ The survey took place in January 2020, long before the Coronavirus was a household name. Not surprisingly, opinions have changed dramatically in the wake of the pandemic.  

It is apparent that trust in four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and the media — has drastically declined, a result not seen since 2017, according to the respondents of the survey.

However, it is the decline of trust in the media that has taken an unprecedented hit, as consumers can’t tell the difference between fake and real news, and the idea of a reputable media outlet seems as outlandish as unicorns and fairies. This has also led to a distrust of social media, as consumers no longer see those they follow as being “people like us.”

The Rise of the Trusted Corporate Source

Two years ago, the Edelman survey of 2018 made a genuinely interesting finding: the voices of expertise are regaining credibility. “Journalists have risen 12 points and CEOs recorded a seven-percentage point gain, since 2017. Technical experts, financial industry analysts, and successful entrepreneurs now register credibility levels of 50 percent or higher.”

Given the decline of trust in the media, it may be tempting to think this trend would not continue post-COVID. However, there are several factors that mitigate against this conclusion. First, the messaging of news organizations has become even more polarized, in part due to what has become a transparent political agenda. Party politics has also become even more divided, and it is apparent that politics is no longer “for the people, by the people,” but rather an exercise in retaining or gaining a power base. The same can be said for many NGOs, who seem to be more concerned with funding for internal use, rather than serving the “greater good.”  

What Does This Mean for Business Communication?

In short, business is faced with an unprecedented opportunity in a world that provides the promise and possibility of uncharted waters when it comes to issues of expertise and trust. Businesses should take into account that consumers will almost certainly face the worst recession in a generation, as the effects of the virus continue wreaking havoc not only on global financial systems, but also with personal finances. Those organizations that can reassure consumers they speak with authority and expertise, are guardians of products and services that are high quality, and have brands that focus on wider social issues of justice and community, will get the competitive advantage.

So, how does a business defending the castle walls from the invading hordes of consumers pleading for competing products and services? This is an existential question as we head towards the end of 2020.

Any business that does not realize that the Barbarians are at the gates and howling for their place in the throngs of those who make up market share, is one that will see their walls of competitive advantage torn down.

In this issue of the iNA newsletter, we’ll take a closer look at how businesses can leverage the power of messaging to ensure that those Barbarians are not kept from the gates, but welcomed in to a place where brands truly deliver.

“He who’s not busy being born is busy dying.”
― Bryan Burrough, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

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