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Monday, December 6, 2010

Trust on the Rise in 2010: Real Restoration or a Blip?

By many accounts, trust in US companies has surged off its lows in 2008 and 2009 by 18% or more. One source is the Edelman Trust Barometer. What does this mean? Are we entering a long-term phase where transparency becomes widespread and trust keeps rising year-over-year? Is it just a dead-cat bounce off lows that descended even below trust levels of the 1930s?

Whether this rebound is temporary or not, what are its drivers? Are trust levels simply tracking with the economic recovery and are just as fragile? Are CEOs, communicators and other key players changing their behavior to earn a restoration of trust? Or, is it a combination of both?

Let’s take the glass-is-half-empty scenario and assume that the rebound is temporary and driven largely by macro economic factors and not actions taken by companies. Impossible to measure specifically, but if we communicators were to assume that to be true, what do we do about it? Throw up our hands and say that trust is like the wind blowing - can't predict it, can't change its course? Or do we still strive to restore and further build reputation and trust through action and prepared response?

At CommCore we tell our clients that trust is indeed a performance issue requiring consistent communications. It can and should be addressed as such just as management assesses and addresses other performance areas like product quality and cost management. Increasingly, companies are grappling with how to train executives - particularly non-marketing/communication managers - to avoid reputational missteps in their decision making, actions and internal and external communications. Performance and communications are inextricably linked.

And, regardless of the peaks and troughs of trust, the public has fundamentally -- and in our opinion, permanently -- changed the way they measure a company's reputation and overall value. As recently as just a few years ago, the number one measure of a company's reputation and overall value was profits and number nine was trust. Today, those two measures are exactly reversed. It will take a generation to reverse it back again, if ever.

We're not just talking about investors/shareholders, in fact, a recent study by the CMO Council found that 99% of customers surveyed said they would either scale back or terminate relationships with companies who fail at building customer trust. Find the actual survey, download at : http://www.cmocouncil.org/resources/.

What do you think? Is the rebound real and lasting? What is driving it and can we do anything to sustain it? Or, are we just reliant on the winds of change?

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