Large organizations are facing a crisis of trust. Big is becoming associated with bad.
"What we learned is that brand authenticity — particularly around 'trust' — is key, not just being omnipresent/big,” Sanford C. Bernstein was quoted by AdAge in December 2015. “Unfortunately, for many of our large coverage companies, this runs amok of their long-established brands as those are often identified as faceless machines of profitability and propaganda by many consumers, not as trustworthy or even high quality … it remains a challenge for large companies to re-brand an incumbent brand and develop trust."
The Center for Food Integrity published research in December 2015 that uncovered a “significant bias against size.” According to its CEO, Charlie Arnot, “People believe that big is bad. There’s an inverse relationship between the size of an organization and the perception of shared values. Our qualitative and quantitative research shows that the larger the organization / company / farm, consumers are more likely to believe that it will put profit ahead of principle — that it will put its own interests above consumer interests every time.”
Why would consumers think that? Because it’s basically true. Around the mid-Seventies the wealth of the rich (who generally work for or own big corporations) began to balloon, while practically everyone else’s incomes stagnated. “The middle class is no longer the majority in America,” The Wall Street Journal stated in December 2015, as it reviewed new research from Pew. A key cause? An “increasing concentration of income and wealth among the affluent,” the Journal stated.
What we are now seeing is a backlash against the establishment, whether it be establishment brands or politicians. Customers are increasingly feeling that they’ve been hoodwinked and cheated. This mood is not confined to the US. According to Statistics Canada, in 2013 only 30 percent of Canadians trusted corporations. A 2015 UK YouGov study found that only a third of people think most big businesses in the UK pay their fair share of tax, compared to four out of every five people believing small businesses do.
If you’re working for a government entity or a large organization you’re facing a trust deficit that could quickly become a chasm. Your organization can’t simply keep doing what it’s always done. Traditional marketing and communications are in many situations widening the chasm of trust between customer and organization. I have often observed customers say “this is marketing” as they dismissed some content and clicked on a link that they felt would bring them to a page with actual specific detail.
Yes, some customers still fall for the tricks of clever, meaningless content and smiley face images, but every year they are a smaller number. As customers’ relative incomes decline they become more and more resentful of big corporations and their enormous profits.
We are entering an era of brand switching and disloyalty where the Web becomes a huge comparison tool. We’re getting societies of distrust, where people become more and more cynical about the official story or the brand / establishment promise.
Transparency, simplicity and fairness will be key to survival in this new world. Is your organization transparent, simple and fair?