This is the second 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 two: The new CEOs?

Investigating the power shift

More than ever before, businesses are adapting to revolve completely around their customers. Whether it’s to do with content creation or the company direction, we have to ask: in today’s world, where’s the influence really coming from?

The face of business leadership is changing. Not necessarily in terms of corporate hierarchical structure, but in terms of who the true leaders and decision-makers are. Corporations in the past were led from the top-down, motivated into action by dynamic and effective CEOs who represented the brand and what it was about. But today’s brands are seemingly more humble; more willing to listen to the wants and needs of customers and adapt to them. Has there been a revolution? Are customers the new CEOs – at least in terms of influence?

The trust barometer shifts again

There is a shift occurring in business values. The most valuable commodity in business today is trust. It shapes the way customers regard companies, what they value, and – most importantly – what they buy. So how can companies leverage this to their benefit?

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

As the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer shows, consumer trust in companies in 2015 was quite bottom-heavy. Despite the credibility of CEOs increasing this year, respondents rated the employees of a company +7% higher, and their peers a full +16% higher than a CEO. Trust isn’t suits anymore – it’s grassroots. Customers trust themselves and each other more than CEOs.

So what can companies do? Well, they can make their customers the CEOs, so to speak.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

Indeed, when it comes to purchasing, a whopping 75% of respondents reported that peers’ influence helped them make their “moment of truth,” pull-the-trigger decisions about buying.

Customers in the driver’s seat

In an effort to demonstrate that important customer-centrism, successful businesses leaders must come to two conclusions:

I need to be where my customers are. That will require some digitisation.

I need to communicate in a way my customers understand and trust. That will require embracing the consumer voice and letting it speak for the brand.

The internet has been the greatest democratising, enfranchising communication tool since the printing press.

It’s been similarly revolutionary in our economic advancement as well. Commerce now happens instantly, digitally, anywhere around the world. This has led to companies not only altering their digital presences in response to way people shop (through ecommerce advancements), but also the way they communicate (through user-generated content).

Brands can now use their digital storefront to curate and exhibit the finest content customers have created about their products. - Highlight to share -

Brands can now use their digital storefront to curate and exhibit the finest content customers have created about their products, and indeed, as customer-centrism grows, so does the real estate given to UGC. By placing the focus squarely on how the brand interacts with its customers (and vice versa), companies can acknowledge and demonstrate (quite accurately) that customers are truly the new CEOs.

This influence customers and employees – the “peers” on both sides of the coin – are wielding over corporate executives is real, and powerful. There is an ongoing upswell of sentiment that CEOs have lost sight of the large populations their products service, and the populations are letting them hear about it.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

Edelman Trust Barometer 2016

Over two-thirds of respondents report that they feel CEOs focus too much on short-term financial success, while well over half say that CEOs don’t spend enough focus on having a positive long-term impact. This isn’t just talk, either; customers are prepared to award companies and CEOs who do.

Craig Jelinek is the CEO of Costco Wholesale, the second-largest retailer in the United States behind Wal-Mart. Jelinek has been extremely vocal about the role of CEOs and large retailers in their communities – and about how CEOs should listen to their customers. Jelinek and Costco pay employees nearly three times the nationally-mandated minimum wage (the standard pay in most US retail), and over 85% of Costco employees enjoy company-funded healthcare (compared to just half of Wal-Mart employees).

Listen to your customers, but clearly communicate the fact that you are listening. - Highlight to share -

And the lesson? Since Jelinek took over as CEO, Costco sales have increased 39% and its stock price has more than doubled, even during the global recession that bankrupted similar retailers.

Listen to your customers, but clearly communicate the fact that you are listening. By prominently featuring and championing user-generated content, as well as putting customer concerns at the forefront of policy, those customers will know that in your company, they are the CEOs, and they are the boss. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Let others speak for you

When it does come time to advocate for your brand, the chart at the top of this article suggests that the megaphone shouldn’t just belong to those in the boardroom. The average employee is more credible in regards to their company than the CEO of said company. Technical experts are still the most trusted, but in the past year alone, peer-to-peer credibility has leapt an impressive +6%, so that now nearly two-thirds of respondents consider spokespersons of their peers to be “extremely/very credible.”

The more a brand and its executives are able to step out of the spotlight, the more credible that brand’s claims will seem.

This is the second 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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The new CEOs?