This is the first of our three-part investigation into the state of consumer trust in 2016, driven by the release of Edelman’s trust barometer.

The entire series:

Part one: Meet socially driven media
Part two: The new CEOs?
Part three: The good kind of peer pressure

Part one: Introducing socially driven media

The power returns to the crowd

What kind of media do you think people trust most? Expert reviews? Newspapers? Industry rags? According to new research, people consider socially driven media the most trustworthy.

It’s something we’ve been preaching for a while (it began to occur around 2005, as you’ll see below) but it’s now undeniable; the ownership and wielding of influence has shifted. Informed, ‘expert’ opinions are no longer valued as highly or as exclusively as before. Now, it’s peer reviews and opinions driving behaviour and consumption.

The Trust Index

In the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, a report published by the leading global communications marketing firm, a number of international trends are emerging concerning the phenomenon – and the commodity – of trust.

According to the Edelman report (and contrary to what you might imagine if you watch the evening news), public trust is actually increasing once again. Trust took a significant downturn over the previous decade, aided by the perceived shadiness of governments and other large institutions that led in part to the global recession. Now, however, trust is picking up again, driven by a better-informed population.

 Edelman trust barometer

Edelman trust barometer

Edelman highlights what it calls “an accelerating disparity” in its Trust Index – a calculus of the total trust placed in a certain institution by a certain demographic. As Edelman points out, a gap is developing and growing between the Trust Index scores of what they identify as the “Informed Public” and the “Mass Population”.

These demographics, representing the top 15% (the “Informed Public”) and bottom 85% of the population (the “Mass Population”) – as determined by education level, income, consumption of news and information, and other indexes – are reinvesting their trust at different rates.

 Edelman trust barometer

Edelman trust barometer

The Informed Public, privy to greater volume of more accurate information, now trusts institutions at a significantly higher rate than the Mass Population.

Specifically, compared to the Mass Population, the Informed Public trusts media at a rate of +7%, government at a rate of +8%, businesses at a rate of +9%, and NGOs at a rate of +11%.

 Edelman trust barometer

Edelman trust barometer

The inversion of trust

The less-informed but far larger portion of the population, the Mass Population, still makes up a full 85% of potential customers, and an interesting phenomenon has begun to occur.

The Edelman report calls this larger trend “the Inversion of Influence.” It used to be that a select, relatively small group of “experts” influenced decision making, and the rest of the laymen audience was expected to trust the judgement of this oligarchy of influence. But with the global recession, banking scandals and the like occurring over the past several years, the population has lost a significant amount of faith in these so-called “experts,” and are – once more – learning to trust themselves.

 Edelman trust barometer

Edelman trust barometer

According to the data below, a full 59% of respondents reported having recommended a company or companies to their friends over the last twelve months. A walloping 75% reported that conversations with friends helped them make decisions about purchasing. Peer-to-peer trust is the new expert opinion.

Our research confirms this as well. In a survey we conducted earlier this year, 69% of millennials stated that they are very likely to read customer product reviews to help inform their purchase decision about a luxury product or service. Only 49% say they are very likely to read an expert product review.

Trust is the only currency with buying power when it comes to marketing; these new influencers are wielding it. So as the dynamics of trust change, are these the new influencers your brand should be courting?

 Edelman trust barometer

Edelman trust barometer

Peer-to-peer trust is the driving trend of today and the future, and companies that wisely leverage this fact stand poised to win. Transparent reviewing processes (sometimes bilateral) and user-generated content (UGC) hubs are ways that customers can communicate with one another in a controlled manner, all while allowing your company to publicly embrace this type of peer-to-peer exchange of information.

This applies to luxury brands, manufacturers, tech companies and nearly every industry under the sun. Good companies promote trust by facilitating discussion themselves, and inviting transparent feedback. The smartest brands know this.

The inversion of trust witnessed in recent years is just as critical and potentially fruitful a business trend as any in the market, and companies who can capitalise on it are positioned to succeed in a changing world market.

Trust us on it.

This is the first of our three-part investigation into the state of consumer trust in 2016, driven by the release of Edelman’s trust barometer.

The entire series:

Part one: Meet socially driven media
Part two: The new CEOs?
Part three: The good kind of peer pressure

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Meet socially driven media