In my forever-ago last post, I talked about personal branding and reputation, but realized that I might have missed the point. In all the conversations taking place online, from marketing, ‘personal branding’ and credibility to religion and politics, trust seems to be at the core of what everyone is talking about. How do we build trust? How do we keep people from thinking us untrustworthy? Who deserves our trust in the first place?
A friend and I were having a couple of beers post-finals and got to the question of trust. We came to the conclusion that trust is in crisis: the Catholic Church is waging a battle for survival as a result of a sexual abuse scandal that might point to the Pope himself; a movement of vocal activists are declaring their distrust of government, accusing it of attempting to become a socialist state; and banks are being charged with fraud for purposefully selling investors funds that were specifically designed to fail.
This wouldn’t be such an issue except that we’re built to trust, we need to trust. We don’t have the energy to evaluate all of the things in our life every day, so we find those cornerstones that we can lean on. When those things crumble, we have to find something new. We’re now forced to evaluate everything in our lives for trustworthiness and are incredibly quick to pull the trigger on the least hint that it is being violated. This isn’t healthy but we’ve been given little other choice.
This article by Pete Blackshaw in Advertising Age speaks well to the current challenges facing marketers attempting to build trust. He mentions the study showing that peer-to-peer trust is down significantly as a chilling reminder that we’re not even trusting our friends’ opinions anymore. And why should we — a recent study that I can’t seem to track down concluded that Gen Yers work very hard to manage their online presence to show their ideal selves (pictures attending parties vs. winning 1st place at math camp). Perhaps the best point he makes is that we have many more questions than answers.
My personal theory on trust was well summarized by Dave Popelka from Mullen Advertising, who wrote a great article about striving to be good rather than the best. He talks about the challenges and pitfalls of measuring your business (or, as I think about it, yourself) against others and suggests that shooting for “good” is the best approach. In my world, this means being good, being consistent and doing as much as possible to avoid our human tendency to pass blame to others when I’ve failed.
Overall, I see trust as an incredibly personal thing. Attempting to manipulate people’s perceptions of you lowers that trust, makes the relationship (be it you or your products) superficial and renders already fragile brand loyalty null and void. However, I still don’t see this as an answer, but rather the beginning of a series of questions that helps us to figure out what trust means to us and how we allocate it to the people, companies and brands we interact with.