2016 Edelman Trust Barometer Wrap-Up: Innovation Requires Trust

We've now spent the last four weeks discussing the results of the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, and the global impacts those findings may have on a series of institutions—mainly the government, big business and the media. If you're just joining us, a marked divide is emerging between what Edelman has coined the “elite” population and the rest of the general public. The elite or informed public – those possessing at least a college degree – express far higher levels of support and confidence in the government, media and industry when compared to the rest of the “mass population.” 

And while these gaps are significant in all areas across the globe, the largest disparity in trust is observed in the business sector in general. Richard Edelman elaborates

“The most profound difference between elite and the broader populations is found in their attitudes toward business. There are double-digit gaps in half of the countries surveyed, the most significant being in the U.S., where 70 percent of the elite population express trust in business in contrast to 51 percent of the general population, a 19-point difference.”

Altering these opinions will neither be easy or immediate, but if we're armed with an understanding of why trust levels have changed – coupled with strategies to change how every citizen views business leaders – we can start cultivating trust in our own companies.

Innovating to Initiate Change

Despite all the negativity and the skepticism, our customers are still looking to us to rebuild trust and regain their support. According to Edelman,

“The general population sees business as the institution best able to keep pace with rapid change, ranking it well above government and higher than nongovernmental organizations … a decisive 80 percent of the general public expect that businesses can both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in their communities.”

In this one statement, Edelman touches on a variety of issues that should be exciting for business owners. Not only are customers waiting to engage with our businesses and teams, they're wanting and expecting it. It's time we reach out: 

  1. The Power of Positives: Today's generation is more conscious about how their dollars are being put to good in the world, and they're using their purchasing power to prove it. It's time business leaders start thinking about more than just short-term profits. We need to start thinking about our brand and it's impact on society, the environment, and our workers and their families/communities as well.
  2. The Power of the Proactive: The days of powerful CEOs shielding themselves behind the doors of their corner offices have passed. It's time to be proactive. As social media invades every aspect of our society, it's easier to break down these walls between you and your customers by tweeting, messaging and engaging directly. Our customers want to know the real person behind the business. Establish an honest, open and natural rapport with your customers, and the brand will only grow. 
  3. The Power of the Partner: As we've seen in the trust survey, the “everyman” is the most trusted spokesperson for our brands. The easiest way to embrace this archetype is to let your employee speak! Grant them access to social media and encourage them to reach out through peer-review sites. Turn your greatest sidekicks into your greatest superheroes.

Easing the Fear of Innovation

In order for us to progress as a society, the business world needs to be able to freely innovate and add new technologies and products to the world. However, if the majority of the population doesn't trust those innovations, the incentive to innovate and disrupt the way things are done is greatly reduced. To quote Edelman: 

“By a margin of two-to-one, the general population believes the pace of innovation is too rapid. The industries of greatest concern are food, which is linked to popular worries about genetic modification, and financial and online services, which raise fears about privacy and security.”

This is precisely why I believe rebuilding consumer trust is so important for businesses. Not only is it necessary for our company's success, but it's also necessary for our society and our world to progress safely into the future. I look forward to seeing many leaders taking additional steps to inspire trust in their business and in their innovations. I believe if they can do this, our future will be very bright. 

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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