Do people trust your company during this crisis?
It depends on how you’re showing up. Are you mouthing platitudes only to continue business as usual…or are you stepping into this moment to find new ways to be of service?
Lead with empathy. Begin by helping. Focus on the needs of your audience, not your own. Don’t just talk; do.
All of this was the smartest way to approach marketing before The Virus hit. Now it’s the only approach that will work. Starting from a place of helping invites trust, and trust is the cornerstone of effective connection.
Communication right now should not be conceptual; it needs to be tangible. What are you doing, urgently, right this minute, to take action? Whether these steps involve internal policies, shifts in access to goods and services, or charitable donations, research shows (more on that in a minute) that the public expects businesses to step up and do something. People don’t want to be sold to, they want to hear about a company’s solutions – and they want to feel the gravitas of expertise around your virus response.
Businesses have unique leverage to lead in this moment. Many are doing just that.
As recorded by the corporate aid tracker developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, companies are demonstrating that they understand the critical role the public wants them to play and are stepping up, setting aside business as usual to address needs that they’re uniquely qualified to fill. The communication from these businesses inevitably feels more credible, going beyond the noise of the meaningless emails that start with, “In these uncertain times, we’re here for our [fill in brand name] community…”
When your work is fueled by empathy and purpose – a spirit of first helping, not selling – you don’t have to scramble for what to say. You’re communicating from a place of genuine care and connection. This is the same philosophy of inbound marketing.
Businesses are more trusted than government, media, and NGOs
Let’s talk about the nature of trust, and the good news for businesses amidst this crisis.
Last January, global communications firm Edelman published its annual Trust Barometer Survey, a research report that measures worldwide trust and credibility around government, business, the media, and NGOs. To varying degrees and for different reasons, trust in all of those institutions has been ebbing for years.
Edelman’s 2020 report was only just released, but it feels like a fascinating relic, reading like the words of a lifetime ago. If you look closely enough, however, it’s all the more surprising for its prescience.
Assessing consumer and employee sentiment isn’t just an academic exercise. As business leaders chart strategies around short and long-term business development and employee engagement, through good times and bad, they need to understand their audience. Leaders who take the time to navigate the trendlines in this emotional terrain are better prepared to communicate, market, and etch the cultures of their brands with success.
The key findings of Edelman’s report were that despite a strong global economy and near full-term employment (ah, memories), we don’t trust any of our institutions.
Again, this study was issued before the pandemic. Respondents reported a deep-seated fear for their future, including the fear of losing their jobs to looming threats like automation, and a distrust that their societal institutions will do what is right.
It’s a gut-punch to see how well-founded these fears were, even though the true trigger wasn’t then lurking in anyone’s imaginations.
In March, after the pandemic took hold across the world, Edelman conducted further global surveys around trust in businesses and brands. The positive news for the private sector is that brands and businesses – especially people’s own employers – scored well. This contrasts with the continued mistrust in government and media, a situation that has had devastating consequences for a global citizenry under siege and unsure of which information to believe.
People grant their trust based on competence (delivering on promises) and ethical behavior, which for businesses translates into three things:
Headed into this crisis, none of the four institutions were seen as competent and ethical, but business ranked highest in competence, beating out government by 54 points as an institution that is good at what it does (64% vs. 10%). And people in general trusted “my employer” the most, by 18 points over business in general.
Business stepping up: Liberty Mutual Insurance. Liberty is donating more than $21M towards relief efforts, giving customers a 15% refund on two months of their annual premium, and offering flexible payment options and delivery coverage expansion for auto policies. The company increased its employee giving match from 50% to 100% through March, and are making 100 boxed lunches a day for youth experiencing homelessness in Boston. Liberty Mutual partners receive direct access to the Risk Control Consulting Division, which provides counsel on how to manage flow of people in their organization, common practices to disinfect work spaces and a home reference sheet for employees that are temporarily working from home.
Because businesses already commanded greater trust before the pandemic, they have benefited from a stronger position of credibility through the storm. And, to their enormous credit, many businesses have built upon that trust with responsible and proactive behavior to support employees, consumers, and partners.
Here’s how that sense of trust is showing up, according to Edelman’s recent report on trust in the private sector:
- Employer communications is the most credible source of information about the coronavirus
- The CEO of “my employer” is trusted more than government officials and journalists
- In eight of 10 countries surveyed, “my employer” is seen as better prepared for the virus than my country
- A wide majority of respondents trust “my employer” to respond effectively and responsibly to this crisis
- There is twice as much trust in a combined business/government effort than in government combatting the virus alone
- Employers are expected to update information regularly on COVID-19, with 63% of respondents asking for daily updates
- Employees want clarity on everything from how many colleagues have contracted the virus to how the virus is affecting the organization’s ability to operate, as well as advice on travel and what can be done to stop the spread of the virus
- Employees primarily want to be communicated with via email or newsletter, followed by posts on the company website.
High expectations for brands to save the world
For brands paralyzed by what to say during this time, avoiding the topic on everyone’s minds is simply not an option. Edelman’s research found that people across the world not only want to hear from brands, they’re expecting brands to be an important part of the solution.
According to Edelman’s report on brands:
- 62% of respondents said that their country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges
- 55% of respondents said that brands and companies are responding more quickly and effectively than government
- 71% agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever
- 86% of people believe that brands should be a safety net stepping in to fill gaps in their government’s response to the virus
- 65% of respondents said that a brand’s response in the crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood of purchasing it in the future
- 60% said that they are turning to brands that they absolutely can trust
- Over one-third of consumers said that they have started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way that it has responded
- One-third of respondents have already convinced other people to stop using a brand that was not acting appropriately
Businesses stepping up: shoe brand Allbirds. The company has pledged to donate thousands of pairs of its Wool Runners to individuals in the U.S. working in the health care community during the coronavirus crisis. So far, Allbirds has given $500,000 worth of shoes to health care workers and has extended the program further with a buy-one-give-one option.
Don’t focus on selling; just help
The current pandemic has thrust us into a crisis that is further testing the credibility of our societal institutions. People across the world are placing an enormous degree of trust in businesses, more than any other entity, and the opportunity to build on that trust should not be squandered.
Paper-thin cause marketing won’t cut it. Fully recognizing that the world has changed and your business must change with it, first and foremost addressing your role as a corporate citizen – that is the fundamental pivot that this crisis demands.
Being of service looks different for every company. It’s great if your business can afford to make big financial donations and sacrifices, but you can provide value in many other creative ways that are specific to the services and capabilities of your organization.
Above all, people need to feel that you care. A spirit of generosity means getting curious about the needs of your audience and starting there first. This happens to be the most successful approach to marketing and communications during the best of times; now it’s an essential approach during the worst.