Results from the World’s Largest Study on Trust: What do they mean for your business?

February 4, 2015

Results are in from the Edelman Trust Barometer, the world’s largest macro study on trust. Since 2001 Edelman has been tracking trust in business, institutions, government and non-government agencies. 33,000 ‘informed public’ respondents from 27 countries were surveyed in the fall of 2014. Before we get into specifics, one fact that stands out is that only 57% of the participants trust business to ‘do what is right’. This leaves almost half of organizations with trust issues.

The following are highlights from this macro study, brought to the organizational / micro level.

People take action based on whether they trust or distrust a company. They buy, recommend, defend, invest in, pay more for, and share positive opinions on line when they trust your company. In fact, 80% buy products/ servicesfrom companies they trust, while 63% refuse to buy products/ services from organizations they distrust.

What does this mean for your business?

Trust matters. Companies need to pay attention to their Trust Index™. Holding management and employees accountable for building and strengthening trust can positively affect the bottom line.  Credible Spokespersons: 70% state the most credible spokesperson is an academic or industry expert, closely followed by a technical expert in the company (67%), and a ‘person like yourself’ (63%).

The CEO is the least credible spokesperson (47%). The survey also asked about spokespeople for specific types of information.

  • Academics (37%) were the most credible in relaying information about products, while media spokespeople, the least trusted at 13%.
  • Employees rank as the #1 credible source for information about the engagement level of employees within the organization (47%) and the organization’s integrity 34%.
  • Employees and academics are tied at 31% as the most trusted source for information about the company’s operations.
  • Consumer activists (34%) and academics (34%) are the most credible spokespeople for a company when discussing the organization’s purpose.

People believe independent sources, which are objective and do not have a vested interest in communicating anything but the facts and the truth. Simply put, nothing builds trust and credibility like telling the truth. We believe people who are knowledgeable, well informed and act in the public’s best interests, not their own.

If your company has academics, industry experts, scientists, technical experts and or employees that are recognized as thought leaders they should be the primary spokespeople and content providers. This is especially true when discussing products and services. These folks are key to building trust with customers and external stakeholders. They need to be well informed and empowered to communicate on the company’s behalf. Are you leveraging their involvement in customer communications and stakeholder relations? Everyone in the company should be well informed as everyone has a part to play in building customer trust.

For organizations without academics or industry experts on staff, the endorsement of an outside academic or industry expert will build credibility for your organization.

Content provided by friends and family is most trusted ( 72% ), while content provided by company employees is trusted by 52%.

What does this mean? People rarely believe advertising or company messages. We believe what our credible sources tell us. Essentially, customers, suppliers and employees are the company’s most effective sales and spokespeople. For example, if your supplier tells his friends that your company has integrity and is great to deal with, people will be more likely to believe him more than they would if the company was saying the same thing. Presumably, the supplier has no vested interest, and is sharing his experience. When people trust a company 68 % recommend it to a friend or colleague and 48% share positive opinions on line.

63 % “People listen to people like me.”
Word of mouth is the most powerful way to market your product, service and company. Period.

81% agree “a companycan take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.”
Being a socially responsible corporate citizen adds to your company’s trustworthiness and will pay off financially. When a company acts to improve the social conditions of the community that it does business in, it demonstrates that it is focused on the public’s best interest, not the company’s interest.

High Trust creates the opportunity for faster and successful innovation. 51% of respondents said the pace of innovation in business is too fast.

The top 3 specific actions that ‘increase trust in industry to implement technology changes’ include:

  • Publicly making test results available for review 80%
  • Partnering with an academic institution 75%
  • Running a clinical trial or beta test 71%

Are you innovating for the sake of innovating or are you innovating to improve a product or service for customers? Are you seeking feedback from your customers? How can you involve your customers and partners in designing, developing and testing new products and services? Involving customers is good business, whether you are creating a technology product or a new service offering. Another study reported that customers are 98% very likely or likely to trust a product or service they were involved in creating. ( When customers are involved, it builds confidence and reduces risk, which leads to trust.

Transparency and third party validation is “essential” to innovation. Third party validation allows for the transference of trust from a ‘known entity like and education institution or organization with a highly trusted brand. Academic, think- tank organizations or institutions that have academic or industry experts would be the best type to receive validation from. As mentioned above, 73% cite academics and industry experts as most trusted. Third party validation adds objectivity and reduces the risk of a conflict of interest.

Are there ways you can involve an academic institution, independent authority or customer in developing and marketing new products? If you already have partnerships with academics, scientists and or learning institutions let your customers and stakeholders know. This transfer of trust builds credibility in your capabilities.

Search engines are the most trusted media source - 72% - when looking for general news and information.

Questions to consider asking include:

  • Can people find your business online?
  • Will they find what you want them to?
  • Is the content what you want it to be?
  • Are you providing helpful information and advice with no strings attached? Or is it simply a bare faced attempt to sell you products and services?

Building customer and stakeholder trust begins inside the organization. Employees are a company’s chief ambassadors. Are employees engaged, informed and customer focused? Do they know how to build trust? High Trust Capital with customers is your strongest predictor of success. Is your company one of the 57% that can be trusted?