Consumers now think that the most credible source of information about commercial organisations is "a person like me", according to the seventh annual Edelman Trust Barometer.
The "someone like me" factor in consumer referrals has risen to surpass doctors and academic experts for the first time, according to Edelman's Trust Barometer, which surveyed almost 2,000 opinion leaders across eleven countries. In the USA alone, trust in "a person like me" increased from 20% in 2003 to 68% in 2006.
A change in direction?
Respondents also consider rank-and-file employees more credible corporate spokespersons than CEOs (42% in 2006, compared to 28% in 2003, in the USA). This provides a possible cue for the future direction of marketing and advertising campaigns, perhaps steering away from "trust me, I'm the chairman" messages and toward "I work in a local store, and I help people every day" messages.
Big brand trust
Interestingly, despite its almost Big Brother-like depiction in the global press, the survey found that Microsoft Corporation is the most trusted global company, followed by iconic companies in their home markets, including Toyota in Japan, Haier in China, Samsung in South Korea, and Petrobras in Brazil.
According to Richard Edelman, president and CEO for Edelman, "We have reached an important juncture where the lack of trust in established institutions and figures of authority has motivated people to trust their peers as the best sources of information about companies. Now companies need to move away from sole reliance on top-down messages delivered to elites, toward fostering peer-to-peer dialogue among consumers and employees, activating a company's most credible advocates."
Other significant findings of the report include:
- Opinion leaders in Europe apply a significant "trust discount" for major US brands, such as:
· Coca-Cola (US = 65% vs. Europe = 41%);
· McDonalds (51% vs. 30%);
· P&G (70% vs. 44%);
· UPS (84% vs. 53%).
There is no such trust discount for non-American global brands operating in the US (or any other market) - for example, Sony = 74% in Japan, and 79% in the US - with the exception of Japanese brands in China.
- Western-based companies continue to make big strides in winning trust in the Chinese market. Big gainers this year included Citigroup, Procter & Gamble, Shell, Unilever and UPS, all now rated trustworthy by more than 75% of Chinese respondents, and up from under 50% two years ago.
- German and Canadian companies are highly regarded by more than 70% of opinion leaders in every market surveyed. Less than 40% of opinion leaders expressed trust in global companies headquartered in emerging markets such as China and India, as well as in Korea. Such companies face particular trust deficits when seeking to buy companies in overseas markets.
- Companies in the technology and retail sectors are the most trusted, while energy and media-entertainment are the least-trusted industries. Pharmaceutical concerns face considerable scepticism in the US and Germany, while financial firms fare much better in the US and Asia than in Europe.
- Television is the big loser in media trustworthiness, with the rise of the internet. When asked where they turn first for trustworthy information, 29% of respondents in the US still cite TV first, down from 39% three years ago. The internet is now cited by 19%, up from 10% in 2003. The same trend is evident in the UK, where television has declined from 42% to 33% as respondents' first choice, while the internet has risen from 5% to 15%.
- Newspapers, which are often thought to be the most serious casualty of the internet wave, show rankings essentially unchanged in most markets, at approximately 20% across the board. Newspapers remain the first trusted medium of choice for respondents in France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Korea, and Italy.
- Articles in business magazines are the most credible source of information about a company (US = 66%, Canada = 53%, Brazil = 75%, and Europe = 60%), followed closely by friends and family, which has grown very strongly in the US (2003 was 35% vs. 2006 at 58%), and in Brazil (2004 was 66% vs. 2006 at 73%), and in Canada (2005 was 43% vs. 2006 at 58%).
- Trust has important bottom-line consequences. In most markets, more than 80% say they would refuse to buy goods or services from a company they do not trust, and more than 70% will "criticise them to people they know", with one-third sharing their opinions and experiences of a distrusted company on the web.
- Trust in institutions overall is lowest in Germany and France, and highest in China, Brazil and the US. Business was trusted by only 33% of respondents in Germany, and only 28% in France, vs. 45% in Spain, 51% in Italy and 53% in the UK. (Comparable figures for the U.S. and China are 49% and 56%, respectively.)
- Government is the least-trusted institution in Brazil, Spain, Germany, and South Korea, and remains low in the US (38%), UK (33%), France (32%), and Canada (36%). It has increased in China (83%, up from 63% in 2005) and Japan (66%, up from 43% in 2005).
- Trust in media across the board is low across all countries except for China (73%) and South Korea (49%).
- Trust in Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), which have consistently been the most-trusted institution in Europe during the six years that the survey has been conducted, has steadily increased in the US (2001=36% vs. 2006=54%); and increased significantly in the past 12 months in Canada (2005=45% vs. 2006=57%) and Japan (2005=43% vs. 2006=66%). Despite the survey asking for only trusted global companies, many respondents volunteered NGOs such as the Red Cross in France and the UK, and Greenpeace in Germany. NGOs are now the most-trusted institution in every market except Japan and Brazil. The widespread rise in trust of NGOs has now extended to Asia, especially in China, where ratings went from 36% to 60% in past 12 months.
According to Michael Deaver, vice chairman for Edelman, "Trust is the key objective for global companies today because it underpins corporate reputation and gives them license to operate. To build trust, companies need to localise communications, be transparent, and engage multiple stakeholders continuously as advocates across the full range of communications channels."