trust

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A few years ago, I was running a strategy workshop with the leadership team of a global medical device firm. As we explored the disruptions that were impacting their business most, one came up that I hadn't previously considered.

An audience member shared that while increased competition and demographic changes were having a significant impact, a new trend that was proving enormously disruptive to their business was how increasingly aware their customers were of price variations across different markets. “In the past,” he said, “a customer in Spain was unlikely or unable to compare the price they were paying for a medical device with that of a patient in New Zealand. That’s all changed now. Our customers do compare and it is doing significant damage to our brand’s perceived trustworthiness.”

This challenge is far from unique. Across the board, consumers are demanding more and more information regarding the products they use on a daily basis.

Trust is a non-negotiable in today’s economy. For obvious reasons, businesses that are trusted are more lucrative and more loved than their competitors. However, time has told that trusted brands also outlast their competition. Trust consistently emerges as the common denominator between the world’s longest lasting companies, proving to keep them afloat through every new fad, wave and trend.

Neuroscientist and author of The Trust Factor, Paul Zak, has spent years studying what builds trust between individuals. His findings are remarkable and yet surprisingly simple. According to Zak, the most important factor at play in gaining trust is our ‘humanness’. When we are real, vulnerable and even fallible, oxytocin is released in the brains of others – a neuro-mechanism humans have used for centuries to determine who we can trust.[1]

This is an important revelation for every leader, professional or brand. For years we have worked hard to project sanitized and corporatized versions of ourselves. Spin doctors and corporate communications departments have tended to carefully craft every message in an effort to ensure communication is predictable, reliable and on-brand.

This approach has well and truly seen its day. In an era of post-truth paradigms, endless marketing, pervasive non-human tech and eroded trust, polished professionalism and corporate spin simply does not stand up to scrutiny.  In place of the impersonal corporate giants of yesterday, consumers today are looking for brands that have an organic personality and act with authenticity.

If we have learned anything in the last year, it is that the only certain thing is uncertainty. Businesses have felt this too, with lockdowns, virus variants and financial instability sending consumer confidence plummeting. This is in line with trends that were already at play as a series of scandals, ethical missteps and moral failures in public organisations drove home the undeniable message that businesses and institutions cannot be trusted.

For this reason, building trust should be one of the central priorities for all companies in today’s world. Especially post-pandemic, much of this trust needs to be built through consistency. For all the pivoting we have done during COVID, there is much to be said for the value of consistency in the face of uncertainty.

More than any other time of history, we have trust issues. As our era has seen so many of the institutions that once stood as societal backbones crumble beneath scandals, lies and alternative facts, the value of trustworthiness has skyrocketed in its scarcity.

Whether in our personal relationships or our interactions with big brands and institutions, trust is the foundation of loyalty, engagement and affinity. This foundation has taken a pounding in recent years – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go around.”[1]

This statement of Columbia University economics professor Joseph Stiglitz finds new relevance in today’s circumstances. With the past year presenting unprecedented threats and challenges to society, recent measures have seen public trust in major institutions plummet to all-time lows.

The landscape of higher education has been changing for decades. Just like the traditional lecture format and the university methods of assessment, the concept of the modern exam is outdated. This year has seen exams evolve in a way that may seem futuristic but only serves to deepens the trends of the past.

Economics professor from Columbia University Joseph Stiglitz once said, “It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go around.” 

Today, this is more true than ever.

“The years ahead will see consumers value trust, whether it be in a brand, person or entity above price, promise or experience. Those who can gain and keep trust, through transparency and values-based offerings, will thrive.”

In 2017, I had the chance to meet a speaker and author I have admired since I was a teenager. Having read many of Dr John Maxwell’s 67 bestselling books, I was excited to see what the legendary man was like in person. Speaking to him backstage at a conference, I was struck by something he said and has said many times in his various books.

“Credibility is a leader’s currency,” he suggested, “With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt.” 

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