How to earn trust: Drop the mic and tune in to your customers
How do businesses regain trust from consumers when facing such a tidal wave of skepticism? Discover Filtered Media director of social enterprise Louisa Sampson's key learnings from the recent Corporate Affairs Summit.

It’s rare today for organisations to earn trust.

This was the bold statement from Ipsos Global Reputation Centre, based on their latest statistics, presented to a room of communications professionals at the Corporate Affairs Summit (CAS) in Sydney earlier this year.

They tested trust with 23,000 citizens in 31 countries about 66 companies across nine industries. According to their research, only 1 in 3 people in Australia trust business leaders to tell the truth.

Ben Hubbard is general manager of public policy and strategy at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, known for ‘fighting for fair’ in their work as a social justice law firm. Speaking at CAS, Ben talked about the rise of cynicism and hyper-partisanship drawing the grey out of debate to reveal a general public who seem far more black and white in their views and allegiances.

Facing such a tidal wave of scepticism, anyone would be forgiven for leaving the conference a little disheartened at the task ahead.


Less talking, more amplifying

Yet the same Ipsos research definitively shows that building trust gives companies a competitive edge.

The light at the end of the tunnel appeared in the community session, featuring executives from construction firm John Holland, Transdev Australasia and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

The panel talked honestly about different pieces of work they had led to repair community relations and regain the respect of stakeholders when things had gone wrong.

They advised instigating authentic two-way communication channels, recognising the importance of businesses listening and reflecting what consumers are saying back to them.

Executive general manager of customer and corporate affairs, Larry McGrath made me think it might be time to stop talking and start amplifying. Larry gave an example of a community consultation held by John Holland. They’d suggested slow progress with minimal disruption, but the community actually wanted a faster resolution and proposed a major change to the plans.

John Holland enacted it, enabling residents to have ownership and pride in what was happening in their front yard. Going that one step further than just listening, amplifying and activating the local communities wishes worked in everyone’s interest – it became a truly two-way conversation.


Handing the mic to customers

Values driven businesses are king. Ipsos research showed 63 per cent of respondents buy brands that reflect their personal values. The time of championing the customer is truly here.

Brands have known this for a while and as a result big brands and businesses have been handing over the mic to their customers for some time, believing they say it best.

Frito-Lay’s Crash the Super Bowl contest is the perfect example. The online commercial competition was started back in 2006, inviting consumers to create their own adverts for Doritos ever year, promising that at least one fan-made commercial would play during the world famous Super Bowl in the US. Eight editions of the commercial contest were held up until 2016 and during that time the general public submitted more than 36,000 entries.

Commonwealth Bank left it to everyday Australians to celebrate their 36 years of support for the Australian of the Year awards. In 2016, they released Australia’s largest ever crowdsourced documentary entitled The Inspiring Story of Us’ featuring 120 Australians sharing their story of their lives, with very little creative overlay and a truly authentic look and feel.

Very recently, Apple’s Behind the Mac campaign put their brand in consumers hands. Candid and no longer sensationalist, the footage simply shows the use of their product from a number of consumer perspectives.

Despite such campaigns having creative masterminds behind them, marketers have predicted the fall of the creative industry with the people’s voice and choice gaining such currency. With major brands taking a truly outside in approach, even turning to crowdsourcing for marketing ideas, where does it leave communications professionals?

Passing the baton to the consumer is one strategy. Simply emphasising the outside in approach when you are thinking up your brand’s strategy can be just as effective. It’s the age old game of putting yourself in their shoes, moving to understand their thoughts, feelings, wants and needs.

So, back to the Corporate Affairs Summit this winter in Sydney. A conference full of communicators heard how the trust of the general public in business is low and that their leaders are unlikely to be believed. In religion, politics, and society in general we are seeing a reinvigoration of ‘power to the people’, and the everyman championed. Brands and business should be no different.

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