2021 Edelman Trust Barometer: Trust Crisis Creates Leadership Opportunity


January 21, 2021

Global pandemic. Fake news. Social protests. Economic turmoil. Political instability.

If 2020 were a movie plot, no one would believe it.

Unfortunately, this is the world we’ve endured the last 12 months.

The effects of this imperfect storm come out this month in Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer. This annual index measures the average percent of trust people place in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), business, government and the media.

Here’s what changed in the last year that makes a difference to how companies of every size approach businesses.

1. Putting trust to the test

COVID’s impact on quality and access to healthcare around the world and the number of jobs lost is the biggest hit to trust. While initially support of governments increased during the first few months of the pandemic, since May 2020 that’s eroded quite a bit in the last half of the year. This was especially true in the world’s two largest economies – United States and China.

2. Leadership void

As trust declined, people looked for someplace to hang their hat, but they were left out in the cold. The normal supply of government leaders, CEOs, journalists and even religious leaders who we trust to do what’s right all had trust scores that dropped. Edelman reports that CEO credibility is at an all-time low in several countries, including Japan (18%) and France (22%). This makes the challenges that CEOs face even tougher as they try to address the problems that keep coming their way.

3. Information glut makes things worse

Without a trusted leadership, people don’t know where to turn for reliable information. As all sources pump out more ‘news,’ trying to capture people’s attention, they actually made the situation worse. The global crisis drove down trust in all new sources to record lows with social media (35%) and owned media (41%) the least trusted. Topping out was traditional media with a 53% drop in trust globally.

This makes a huge impact on global recovery as vaccinations begin to roll out. As the Edelman report shows, people who have access to information with ‘good hygiene’ are more willing to get the vaccine within the year of its first availability. Those with less reliable news sources are more worrisome, hurting workers’ return to a traditional workspace because of their fear of becoming infected.

4. Good news for business

While the outlook feels like doom and gloom, businesses are coming out on top of the trust equation. Business aren’t just the most trusted of the four organizations Edelman studied, it’s the only trust institution with 61% trust level globally, and the only organization seen as both ethical and competent. When the government is absent, people clearly look to business to fill the void. The opportunity and expectations for business to solve monumental problems has never been more apparent than it is today.

What does this mean for your business and what opportunities lie before you?

How to build trust in your brand in the midst of crisis

Every brand now suffers from a more cynical customer. While this certainly creates its own bevy of challenges, it also clears a way for companies willing to do the work to establish themselves as leaders.

1. Develop your brand and its purpose.

The old adage is more true now than ever…people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care. Companies still out of touch with the need for discovering and articulating their brand purpose will continue to suffer from skepticism.

Eighty-six percent of Edelman respondents said they “expect CEO to publicly speak out on one or more of these societal challenges: pandemic impact, job automation, societal issues, local community issues.”

Leaders must be clear what their companies stand for as well as against. Unless your employees — especially marketing and sales teams — understand how to articulate the differentiating stand you have as a brand, you’ll be considered a hand-wringing bystander. But the days of staying out of the fray are behind us. Brands that refuse to take a stand will instead find themselves in a free fall.

2. Invest in training employees

Would you buy a Ferrari and then opt-out of the insurance? Of course not.

But that’s what happens to companies that talk a talk externally, but don’t instill a true brand purpose and supporting values internally. It’s the renegade employees who either reinforces a company’s message or swing the doors wide open on hypocritical leadership and a culture of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Employees and their actions, whether it’s on the clock or during their personal time, mirror their employer. If you want to instill trust in your customers, you must start by creating a trusted relationship with your employees. The empathy you show to employees overflows into how they treat your customers.

3. Become the trust source of information

You may have heard of this thing called content marketing? This very situation is why it matters.

Content marketing isn’t a marketing tactic, it’s a business approach. Executives who support this style of business understand that becoming the trusted source of information takes time, but it’s invaluable. Branded new sources such as AARP’s member magazine, Bayer magazine, and Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials website have shown the value of growing an audience through content that’s truthful, reliable and unbiased.

Each of these content hubs shows empathy by truly understanding their buyers and their journey, answering their most important questions and finding a common purpose with those they serve by helping first and selling second.

Trust: The ultimate currency

This is the 21st edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer. The consistent message these past decades remains the same: for any business, lasting success is the strongest insurance against disruption, indifference and toward future growth.

“Trust defines an organizations’ license to operate, lead and succeed. Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them.”

Download the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer

Photo credit: geralt via Pixabay

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.