The right words can… build trust in an untrusting world

by Claire Wilson

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The Edelman Trust Barometer released last month confirmed ethics and integrity are becoming increasingly important to stakeholders. We’ve seen this play out in interesting ways in our clients’ communications.

The Edelman Trust Barometer has been a go-to source of insight for businesses and organisations for 20 years. This year’s report was issued last month and shows growing inequality is driving a growing mistrust of key institutions. As a B2B copywriting agency, here are three of the top ten findings that stood out as particularly relevant to our work:

  • Stakeholder engagement fosters long-term company success
    87% of respondents say customers, employees and communities are more important to a company’s long-term success than shareholders.

  • Ethics are three times more important for establishing trust in a company than competence
    The report finds that trust is based on two factors: competence and ethical behaviour but notes ethical drivers make up 76% of the trust capital of a firm.

  • CEOs are expected to lead from the front
    Three-quarters of the general population say CEOs should take the lead on change instead of waiting for the government to do it.

These results reinforce some of our core beliefs about marketing and communications: consumers can spot spin a mile away, they want to support companies that genuinely share their values and how you communicate with them is integral to whether they will trust and believe you or not. Many of our clients share these views, and our work with them has helped leverage these essential drivers of trust to make their communications more engaging and effective.

Stakeholders, not just shareholders

With the rise of integrated reporting, best practice annual report writing has focused for some time on the value created for a range of stakeholders, not just shareholders. Key themes are established up front and help guide how the company reports every aspect of its business performance and ongoing strategy. This provides a framework for more engaging storytelling, rather than a dispassionate facts and figures approach.

We’re now helping a range of our clients to take this even further. A shining example of this is the work we do with De Beers. In the five years we have been working on its sustainability reports, the company has transformed the way it reports its activities. The content is centred around human stories and engaging case studies, making it far more relevant to a range of stakeholders.

Another strong example from the diamond industry is the Diamond Producers Association. We worked with its team last year on the messaging and writing of its Total Clarity Report, showcasing the first independent assessment of the diamond industries’ impact on the environment and communities it works in. To help bring a huge amount of statistical data to life, a lot of effort went into finding clever ways to make the stats more relatable. For example, did you know the volume of diamonds 5 carats or larger recovered each year would fill one basketball? The DPA also went to great lengths to find people to share their stories first-hand, and we interviewed people in Botswana, far north Canada and the US to contribute to the report. The result was a much more human way to show the transparency and commitment of the diamond industry to long-term sustainability.

To authenticity and beyond…

Not only are companies broadening their view of the stakeholders who matter, but they are also changing their view of sustainability issues. No longer a niche interest area or an effort in woke-washing, companies now see sustainability as a core way of working which guides everything they do. The findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer show how important this is for building trust with consumers, with ethical behaviour accounting for most of the trust capital earned by companies.

According to the Edelman report, “Trust is undeniably linked to doing what is right. After tracking 40 global companies over the past year through our Edelman Trust Management framework, we’ve learned that ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability and purpose drive 76% of the trust capital of business, while competence accounts for only 24%.”

Frequent visitors to marketing blogs will know brand purpose has been a hot topic for many years, with many companies linking their work to charitable causes (with mixed results). Thankfully, brands have come to understand that the success of these efforts largely depends on their authenticity. There is no point proclaiming loudly that your company passionately believes one thing and then acting in a completely different way when you think no one is looking. There are eyes (and cameras) everywhere and the internet has a very long memory.

We’ve been flying the authenticity flag for a long time because marketing material that genuinely reflects the personality and approach of the company is more believable, engaging and effective. Customers want to buy from companies who share their values and convictions and even B2B clients want to work with like-minded firms. One of our clients, supply chain data firm Achilles, has found that large companies looking for new suppliers now include search filters around carbon footprints and CSR policies. So operating ethically, and being able to prove it, has become a licence to operate for suppliers looking to win new business.

Walking the walk

It is encouraging that the Edelman Trust Barometer found people expect CEOs of companies to lead from the front when it comes to creating lasting and meaningful change. We’ve seen some great examples of this with our clients finding new ways to get their CEO’s views out in the world and connect with their audience. We’ve been working with commercial property firm Realla to create the Commercial Property Pioneers Podcast with its CEO, Andy Miles. Interviewing a series of entrepreneurs and innovators in commercial property, Andy uncovers fascinating views on the commercial property market in a conversational and accessible way.

Helping companies to find their authentic voice and promote their work in a way that makes a genuine connection with their audience is our bread and butter. We’ve always known the right words can build trust and understanding with clients, and we’re thrilled the rest of the world has cottoned on. Importantly, as cynicism grows and trust comes under attack, businesses that can earn it and keep it will see even more of a benefit.

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More from Claire – Financial report writing – Art, science, or a bit of both?

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