In trust we grow

An understanding of trust, what it can deliver and its drivers, is key to business success. Michael Ziviani has some guidelines for evaluating and harnessing its power.

This article was sponsored by Precise Value.

A seamless CX is often highlighted as the key to delivering an organisation’s success. In today’s globalised marketplace, however, the issue of ‘trust’ plays a far more critical role. An erosion of trust creates a barrier preventing many organisations from delivering their full business potential. Businesses that incorporate trust at the core of their values and operations are today perceived more favourably by consumers. If a business also advocates for sustainable practice and environmental and human rights issues, further positive gains can be realised.

The question to consider is: ‘What is trust?’ and how does it translate to business growth? How, as a marketeer, can you ensure maximum possible traction from every campaign you develop?

Why care about trust?

Michael ZivianiThe legitimacy of an organisation – credibility, trust, reputation – is a licence to operate. It gives the organisation the right to enjoy the trust of its stakeholders. It gives room to manoeuvre when things go wrong. Understanding the mechanics of trust, how it’s composed and how to boost it is only the first step. Then comes critical communications that need to be relayed to management decision-makers and stakeholders. The key aim is to create clarity that shows the links between trust and business growth.

The path for campaign success can only be laid after establishing an organisation-wide understanding of what trust is and how it is built as a precursor to growth. When organisations align their strategic communications with the work of other internal business units, the outside environment and stakeholders, the positive impact on customer trust is enormous – enhancing reputation, increasing brand loyalty and delivering increased sales.

Evaluation

Good evaluation asks the questions – what works, for whom, under what circumstances and how? To address and build trust and reputation, means the role of evaluation must become a critical part of an organisation’s strategic communication.

It’s a systematic assessment of the strategy process – from planning and implementation through to goals achieved and outcomes delivered. All this within the context of business unit objectives, organisational goals and the broader stakeholder relationship including shareholders. Evaluation provides the key to understanding and enabling adjustments to be made in real time so campaigns can deliver more optimum results. Credibility, trust and reputation are built by actions over words. Authenticity comes from those actions being described by customers and independent, third party stakeholders.

Internal and external stakeholder engagement

As communications increasingly become part of a more strategic management role, it is ever more important to understand how consumer trust is significantly impacted by the stakeholders in an organisation’s external environment. Building relationships and trust with these stakeholders – then discussing their views with all internal stakeholders – works because it unlocks new understanding and a growth perspective which has never been more important. The social, political and institutional environment that an organisation operates in provides a perspective that must be factored in to the overall strategic decision-making of the business. This sets the scene for higher consumer trust to be achieved – leading on to improved product sales and customer advocacy.

In doing so, boards and shareholders, as well as management, begin to understand the significance that evaluation can have on building up consumer trust.

Education and data

The challenge lies in educating communication and campaign managers to embrace an organisation’s data as an opportunity and resource from which they can learn how to build consumer trust and sales. Lack of time, budget or management demand, are identified as the typical barriers to proper measurement and evaluation. These arguments are, however, shortsighted.

Research I completed in collaboration with industry leaders and academics in 2018 showed evaluation actually improves the status of communications professionals by providing a currency to reveal otherwise intangible assets. With good leadership, that currency can be used to create a culture of organisation-wide customer engagement. The flip side is a steady, inexplicable loss of sales, eroded by waning levels of trust.

Monopolies and regulators

Without trust, an industry will eventually be regulated. There’s a plethora of recent examples here, including banks and aged care homes. APRA regulations restrict banking operations, and a perverse outcome for consumers has all but removed interest only loans – delivering a lot of pain for home owners who couldn’t refinance their homes.

Over-regulation creates undesirable limitations – over which organisations have no control – on operations.

If we accept trust is so important to business growth, then why is it not universally measured? How long will it be until regulatory bodies independently track trust and enforce external controls upon organisations?

Ask yourself: do you know the one thing you need to measure that will shift your organisation’s trust needle? Without knowing this, your organisation is exposed to needless and unnecessary risks to its reputation and sales. Evidence shows that corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns, built authentically through public relations which provide uplifting messages, can develop trust over time and give a buffer of goodwill for when things go wrong.

What can you do?

There are several guidelines which help you make progress:

  • Most organisations track and report marketing metrics, often including brand health. These can and should be extended to encompass proper measures of trust and relationships. That extension should neither be costly nor onerous in its design.
  • Once results start to flow, create a core marketing and communications forum to review evaluation, discuss and interpret how strategy could be adjusted.
  • Carefully track the strategy adjustments to build stock of successful outcomes. Elevate these to senior executive forums but include a request for resources to take the next steps.
  • Plan to go forward with the data in at least two ways:
    1. Model the strength of trust drivers to uncover where to focus effort for best effect, and
    2. consider existing marketing or CRM data to blend with survey results giving deeper insights into customer behaviour.

Your marketing and CRM data is a key asset that holds great potential for new value creation – but only you will understand the sources of that value. So take control of that value mining process and don’t rely solely on your IT department, who is likely busy enough with its own infrastructure headaches!

Trust is the mesh that binds legitimacy to profitability. It operates within and outside an organisation as an intangible yet very measurable force. Recognising and understanding that force will guide you to better strategies that are more aligned to customer and stakeholders needs. Implementing these strategies properly will require connection between internal silos, at the very least bringing marketing and comms together. The trust imperative is the common goal that facilitates new growth. The dynamism of today’s global market, and the call for efficient business growth delivered with the least resources, requires an agile approach. Those organisations who realise a trust advantage will grow and reap the rewards of increased sales and enhanced reputation and those who don’t will flounder.

Michael Ziviani is founder and CEO at Precise Value.

Photo by Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash.