How will your business fill the trust void? - Marijke Timmers

How will your business fill the trust void?

I recently got my hands on the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. I’m kind of ashamed to say it’s the first time I’ve taken a proper look at the report.


If you haven’t seen it yet either, it’s a study that includes over 33k respondents from across 28 countries. Edelman have been studying trust for more than 20 years and believe that it is the ultimate currency in relationships between stakeholders and institutions. They trace the trends that influence and reflect people’s trust in the four major societal institutions: government, business, media and NGOs.


The 2021 findings centre around this year’s trust theme: Declaring Information Bankruptcy.


It won’t come as a surprise that given the uncertainty of the past 18 months, brought about by Covid and likely the obvious deficit in global leadership, business has become more trusted than government. Even more trusted than NGOs at this time. It is the only institution seen as both competent and ethical.


The report doesn’t really go into ‘why’, but here’s my assessment of what I see in the market and the shifts I’ve seen across my clients and partners…


1. Alignment of brand values.


I start here because it really is the foundation of everything. With consumers increasingly evaluating purchases through a lens of personal ethics and values, businesses have started to realise that these aren’t just a few words to fill an induction pack. Truly standing for things that matter to their employees and customers is now an expectation not a ‘nice to have’. And, consumers are becoming much better at discerning between reality and fiction when it comes to businesses making ethical and sustainable claims.


For small businesses, the backbone of our economy, a focus on brand values leads to attraction of your ideal customers. The strongest brands I work with connect on an emotional level with their customers – they create the most value for them and build lasting relationships (Edelman would probably say ‘they build trust’). They do that through shared value sets. After all, what’s important to you will be important to your ideal customer.


More businesses taking a stand ethically and sustainably is shifting the focus from profit for a few, to prosperity for many (across the entire value chain). And quite frankly, this can’t come soon enough.


2. Improved employee relations.


You’ve probably read the stories of the businesses that took the Covid-related handouts when they didn’t really need it – deservedly damaging brand news. But, from what I’ve witnessed in the small-to-medium business space (mostly), is the opposite of that. I’ve seen a protection of staff over profits and a deeper appreciation of the person behind the desk or computer screen.


Working from home has created resilience and longer term cost savings for many small businesses, enabling them to retain their people and provide them with greater flexibility to manage work and home life. In return for trusting your team to work in a more agile manner, employees have also become more trusting of their employers, generating loyalty. Ultimately, that’s served your customers because employee experience always equals customer experience.


3. Humanisation of technology.


In the same way working from home has humanised the employee, it has brought about higher demand for more connected, ‘humanised’ technologies. Now, I question how ‘trusted’ the large technology businesses are in the world, but I do know (after a lengthy panel discussion this week with Women in AI) that ethics and values are being built into today’s technologies, to counter issues such as algorithm bias. I, for one, am pleased to know that there are good (seriously smart) people committing their careers to solving such issues.


While we may be a bit ‘Zoomed’ out, technologies like Zoom kept us stay connected during periods of lockdown. And, while products incurred manufacturing and logistical delays, the global market opened its doors to services, enabling new businesses and service models to sprout. For consumers with service needs, this meant access to a broader network of humans, willing and able to solve their problems in different ways and often, at lower costs.


I believe small businesses are trusted businesses. You wouldn’t exist otherwise. So, thanks to all of you for bringing conscience to commerce, and building trust in your leadership. The world needs more businesses like yours.


According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, consumers are now looking to business to fill the void left by government:

  • 68% think CEOs should step in when government does not fix societal issues;
  • 66% think CEOs should take the lead on change rather than wait for government to impose change; and
  • 65% think CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public, not just to Boards of Directors and Stockholders.


How will you embrace this new mandate?

If you’d like help clarifying your brand values to attract your ideal customers, check out my Brand Blueprint programme here.