Marketing For Trust

|, , , , , , May 27, 2019

When Facebook and Twitter recently banned a handful of Canadian-based extremists and white supremacist groups (among others), the platform giants likely weren’t only looking to deprive dangerous individuals and organizations from disseminating hatred to mass audiences. Rather, these decisions mark the latest in a series of attempts to confront a festering reputational problem that dogs the world’s top social media brands.

This brand management saga – fueled further by the recent opinions on the dangers of a Facebook monopoly and the federal government’s Digital Charter announcement, promising increased penalties for privacy violations – is also about confronting declining societal trust. This trend is highly relevant to marketers who depend on digital channels to communicate with consumers.

Our fourth annual CanTrust Index study on trust in Canada in 2019 indicates that trust among Canadians has declined from previous years across a wide range of domains: governments, large and small companies, business sectors and leaders.

The results also show that while trust in certain information sources like word-of-mouth recommendations and editorial content has remained strong (at 76 percent and 57 percent respectively), trust in social media companies has declined. The credibility deficit has widened over time in particular for Facebook, which dropped 23 points in two years, from 51 percent in 2017 to 28 percent in 2019.

We’re now seeing social media companies wake up and try, with limited success, to ward off regulators and regain lost trust by actively applying previously established protocols or by creating new ones. A growing number of media organizations have also moved to bolster trust among their audiences, either by establishing public editors or by implementing transparency, accuracy and bias protocols (e.g., those based on standards developed by The Trust Project, an international initiative that surfaced through the advocacy of a journalism ethics expert at Santa Clara University in California).

But what’s the path to building credibility for marketers who rely on these popular platforms to promote their ideas, products and services? And how do they build trust with audiences that are losing trust in corporate Canada while increasingly scrutinizing what they encounter online?

Here are some trust-building considerations for marketers:

  • Start with clarity and purpose. Some consumer product giants, like Nike, have sought to short circuit the tsunami of societal skepticism by confronting it head-on and are aligning their campaigns with principled political stances (for example, the Colin Kaepernick ad, which first generated a boycott prior to a $6 billion sales spike).  Our study shows that organizations that stand for a cause or personal value that matters to consumers drive trust (with a trust score of 69 percent).  But the companies that will truly build and sustain trust over time will be the ones that are clear about their purpose. They will walk the talk and commit to practicing what they preach, starting within their own organizations – especially when the cameras stop rolling.


  • Know what sources your audiences trust. Word-of-mouth marketing remains a powerful force, and real consumer reviews are increasingly relevant at a time when people are placing more trust in these referrals relative to other information sources.  In our study, 76 percent of Canadians are very or mostly trusting of word-of-mouth recommendations – a figure that has held steady in recent years.  Friends and family are considered the most trusted influencers of all and impact our opinions and actions most – even more than public-facing thought-leaders and professionals who also carry high trust. Consumer opinion and online reviews have a 50 percent trust score. While lower than recommendations from someone I know or editorial media, this result is the highest score related to online information sources and the fourth most trusted information source in our survey.


  • In a sea of sameness, reputation trumps all. Reliable and dependable products and services are important, but competence alone does not sustain trust.  A positive reputation can give companies a competitive advantage; a happy marriage of reverence and relevance. Our study shows that 81 percent of Canadians feel that a positive reputation is an important factor in driving trust for a product or service.  In this age of transparency, how a company operates has become equally important to what it does.


Our CanTrust Index shows that Canadians are seeking refuge in the genuine trust that exists within real-world social networks, as opposed to virtual ones. But companies and brands can earn a spot here, too. Winning and protecting trust, while uncovering new ways to optimize for it, must become an organizational priority. Purpose-driven companies with healthy reputations will come out on top. Trust me.

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