Consumer trust is the one true metric

Brands, currently obsessed with capturing their customers' data, should remain focused on gaining their trust, Andrew McGuinness says.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

If you had to sum up the entirety of the marketing industry in one word, it would have to be "trust". Without trust, I won’t buy from you, I won’t vote for you, I won’t listen to you, I certainly won’t eat you.

Trust links the work of otherwise distant factions of the marketing industry, from the agency advertising breakfast cereal to the lobbyist based in Westminster. We seek trust from our clients and look to engender trust from consumers. It is trust that makes the marketing communications world go round.

It was therefore with interest that I picked up the recently published Edelman Trust Barometer. Interesting because this major survey, now in its 14th year, has not been produced by one of the big marcoms holding companies, nor one of the global ad agency behemoths. Instead, it is produced by an independent PR agency, Edelman.

Gap in government vs. business trust widens

The survey throws up a number of surprises and talking points, the one most media latched on to being that trust in government has once again fallen, with the gap between trust in government and trust in business being at an all-time high. But dig beneath the headlines and the survey throws up a number of interesting themes worthy of debate and consideration.

First, against the backdrop of clients and agencies alike rushing to engage consumers more effectively online, the survey reveals that trust in "traditional" media far outstrips that of "social". Of course, this doesn’t mean that all our collective efforts to engage socially with consumers have been wasted. Far from it. But it is a slightly sobering reflection of the power of the incumbent media and the fact that money talks: at the most basic level, viewers know it costs more to advertise on TV than to buy a skyscraper on Google and that mere scale of investment brings with it trust. "As seen on TV," as they used to say. It is also a reminder of the lack of real meaning of language such as "social media" – a categorisation that, for consumers, spans Twitter ad-spam to dialogue with my most trusted friends.

Be bold, be broad

Second, the survey indicates we should be bolder in advising our clients to engage in broader, societal debates. Almost three-quarters of active participants want businesses to contribute to the broader debate on energy, food and nutrition and financial services. (A cautionary note: this apparent pro-business stance appears to be contradicted by respondents calling by 3:1 for business to be more regulated.)

Third, we in the UK and elsewhere in the West still appear to benefit from a positive trust legacy. Far from being drawn to the newness and enterprise of the BRIC nations, organisations with their headquarters in the West by and large are more trusted. How can we use this as part of the Government’s narrative to attract inward investment into the UK? How do we capitalise on this in the positioning of Western brands? And how do we protect trust in brands as this trust legacy inevitably erodes?

We in the UK and elsewhere in the West still appear to benefit from a positive trust legacy

But perhaps more important than any of the statistics is the realisation of just how fundamental trust is to the dynamics of markets. In food retailing, for example, we see the "big four" for the first time failing to grow as more and more people see Lidl and Aldi as trusted brands.

Who is at risk? 

Looking ahead, where are there big, established incumbents that are vulnerable as trust in their brand diminishes? Which are the brands whose share of market outstrips their share of trust? Will the Premier League’s supremacy be challenged by a new sporting franchise? Will Facebook be challenged by an entrant that we trust more with our data? Will someone de-position Sports Direct in the way easyJet has reframed Ryanair?

The Edelman survey is a timely reminder not to lose sight of the simple but fundamental metric of trust. We in the marketing industry can be guilty of being seduced by the latest fad, blind-sided by new technology or buried by heaps of data. But while all around can feel transitory, the importance of trust is enduring.

As Peter Pan put it: "All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust." Not a bad shorthand for our industry, whether you’re in the business of big data or big ideas.

Andrew McGuinness is a founder of BMB and Seven Dials PR