The New Landscape of Information: 3 Consequences of the Trust Disparity

If you're joining us for the second installment of our series on the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, you understand there are a few key elements of today's society that are contributing to the growing trust disparity between the “informed” and “mass” populations. As Richard Edelman sums up

“Trust is rising in the elite or “informed public” group – those with at least a college education, who are very engaged in media, and have an income in the top 25 percent. However, in the 'mass population' (the remaining 85 percent of our sample), trust levels have barely budged since the Great Recession.”

As it currently sits, the trust gap difference between the informed public and the masses is nearly 19 percent. When these views become the norm – when the staggering majority accepts skepticism as a consumer mindset and cynicism as a political platform – consequences arise. To quote Holly Green, CEO and managing director of The Human Factor, in an article in Forbes

“Putting our collective cynicism aside, this pervasive lack of trust represents a leadership crisis of staggering proportions. When we don’t believe that our business and political leaders tell the truth, it sets in motion a tidal wave of negative attitudes and ways of thinking and behaving that gets in the way of achieving our goals.”

Though you might have a “so what” reaction to the idea that large portions of the population have diminished trust in government and business, we're now seeing that trust levels have a measurable impact on how our society functions and how consumers interact with businesses. And this impact demonstrates that trust is a must for businesses to cultivate. 

1. A Shift in Discourse

The most obvious consequence of this trust disparity arises in the political sector. Americans are becoming more and more skeptical of our political systems and its leaders with every waking day. As a result, we can see the inherent distrust of the political system lending itself to the popularity of candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both seen as outsiders and not part of the political establishment. It's this distrust playing out in some of the rhetoric that's being used in debates, political spots and stump speeches as well. These candidates are playing on the pervasive amount of skepticism and fear to provide a message declaring that the status quo is hopelessly broken, and without a leader outside the established norm, it will only get worse. 

2. Behavior Changes With Trust

Perhaps the most revealing statistics from the Edelman survey are that consumers will change how they interact with brands based upon the level of trust, and this interaction goes way beyond simply buying more from companies they trust. Take a look at the following statistics:

  • 68 percent of consumers chose to buy products and services from trusted companies, while 48 percent refused to buy products/services from distrusted companies.
  • 59 percent recommended trusted companies to a friend or colleague, while 42 percent publicly criticized distrusted companies.
  • 41 percent chose to share positive opinions of trusted companies online, while 26 percent shared negative comments of distrusted companies.
  • 38 percent publicly defended trusted companies, while 35 percent publicly disagreed with positive opinions of distrusted companies.
  • 37 percent paid more to shop for a service/product from a company they trusted, while only 20 percent paid more than they wanted for distrusted companies.
  • 18 percent bought shares of a trusted company, while 12 percent sold shares of a distrusted company.'

As you can see from these statistics, the level of trust you cultivate with consumers has some very substantial effects in terms of whether people buy from your company and whether they will become advocates for your company, and even can have an effect on share prices. Further, if people distrust your business (as opposed to trusting or being trust-neutral), your company is bound to suffer ill effects to sales and reputation. As the mass population is both the largest and most distrusting cohort, many organizations need to make great strides in garnering public trust for their business to flourish.

3. Trusted Sources are Drastically Different

While the informed population used to hold authority and influence, the mass population has now taken over as the dominant influential population. This is largely due to the rise and influence of peer-driven media. With Internet search and social media as two of the top three most-used sources of news and information, friends and family are much more likely to sway a consumer's decision to engage with one brand over another. Seventy-five percent of the general population made decisions, overcame concerns or were warned about risks based upon peer feedback when it came to choosing to do business with a company. As such, peers and employees are seen as more credible sources of information than leaders.

Thinking Forward

In the next post, I'd like to delve into these new ideas about what entities count as trusted sources and how executives can use this information to create better brand experiences for their customers. I look forward to having you along with us.

Al Eidson is the owner of Eidson & Partners, a business and marketing strategy consultancy, and a founder of SparkLabKC, an early-stage startup accelerator program in Kansas City. He's an expert in taking products to market and has launched more than 220 new products and ventures through his career. He's also proud of killing off a great many problematic products before they hit the market. His vision involves meaningful and lasting products through innovation. 

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