How to Win in a World Without Trust

Press enter to search
Close search
Open Menu

How to Win in a World Without Trust

By Chris Gelbach - 04/16/2018
Jamie Kieffer, Edelman

During keynote address, Edelman executive urges brands to own their stories and take a stand


Schaumburg, Ill. — Drawing from Edelman’s “Trust Barometer” and “Earned Brand” studies, Jamie Kieffer painted a picture of an environment in which trust in institutions is at an all-time low while expectations for brands have never been higher.

Kieffer, managing director of client strategy for Edelman, shared his views on what it takes for brands to win in today’s environment in March during a Path to Purchase Summit keynote address. “Trust has generally has been a zero-sum game,” he said. “After a market crash, trust in business goes down, but trust in government rises because government steps in and takes action. The overriding philosophy is, as humans, we need to trust in something.”

But as the latest Trust Barometer study indicates, trust in every institutional category – including businesses, government, the media and non-governmental organizations – has now gone down. This presents an opportunity for brands. “People actually trust businesses. … People believe a major news organization only slightly more than a corporation giving them the facts. This used to be 70/30, but this data has changed incredibly over time,” Kieffer said.

Kieffer offered brands three things to do to win in a world where people are not trusting anyone:

The first was to own your own story. In a world where people see right through obvious marketing content, Kieffer said it’s important for brands to tell their stories in a rigorous, clear, understandable and accessible way. “Bring your stories out into the world,” Kieffer said. “Become your own media company.”

Second, Kieffer urged brands to engage consumers on the consumers’ terms, noting that people will believe your social media by a 2-1 margin over your advertising. “They want to hear from you. They want to hear from your leadership. Even more importantly, they want to hear from your employees,” Kieffer said.

Third, Kieffer urged brands to take a stand. He noted that in Edelman’s “Earned Brand” study, 57% of people agreed with the statement that “the system is failing me,” and 51% of people believed brands can do more to solve social ills than government. “The fact that half of people would believe that is kind of crazy, right?” Kieffer said. “It doesn’t make any sense. But in that is the opportunity.”

According to the brand study, the No. 1 data point that moves people to being invested in or committed to a brand is when the brand and consumer share views on controversial social and political issues. “Frankly, the data says the more controversial, the better,” Kieffer said. But Kieffer stressed that companies can make big mistakes when they chase issues that don’t necessarily reflect their brand. “Don’t chase issues,” Kieffer said. “Find your calling.”

As an example of a stance that worked, he cited Chobani chairman and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s position on immigration. Ulukaya is a Turkish immigrant and entrepreneur who bought an old yogurt factory in upstate New York, hired people from the local community, paid them a living wage, and hired a lot of immigrants.

“When immigration came up as an issue, he had a point of view on it. He was speaking on it from the values of his company and you could agree or disagree with the point on immigration, but you felt better about this guy,” Kieffer said. “He didn’t pick an issue and go on one side of it and lose half his audience. He stood for his values and knew when it was time to speak up.”

Kieffer then showed a Fast Company cover featuring Ulukaya that said “Immigrant. CEO. Billionaire.” He noted that finding your calling as a brand does not mean giving up all your profits to become a charity.

“People actually want to financially reward companies for doing the right thing,” Kieffer said. “When was the last time you saw billionaire as a compliment? And that, I would suggest, is when you get things right.”