Trust in government, business, media and NGOs has declined substantially since 2012, per Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer. The drop-off has been even more pronounced between 2016 and 2017. Brand marketers are grappling with the blowback as well, and during Advertising Week, a number of panels touched on the subject of trust and what marketers can do to earn it, keep it and make it grow.

“I think it’s harder to be a brand or marketer in the U.S. today than almost any other market because we are living with a divider in chief who has created a completely and profoundly different atmosphere,” said Ben Boyd, president of practices and sectors at Edelman, at an Advertising Week panel about brands in a post-trust world.

At American Express, fighting to win back consumers’ trust in a world of data breaches and fake news isn’t advertising. Elizabeth Rutledge, evp, global advertising and brand management at American Express, said the brand relies a lot on word of mouth to spread positive messages.

“It’s the best way for us to show our brand authentically through other customers who have stories to share about the experience they’ve had,” Rutledge said. “That’s better than any ad in terms of a reference point.”

For Publicis Groupe’s chief growth officer Rishad Tobaccowala, it’s less about advertising and creative and more about marketing and product innovation.

“Make a better product or service, and people will talk about that,” he said. “In many cases you may want to cut your advertising budget to improve your product or service.”

Another key priority for Tobaccowala is earning back clients’ trust by first addressing two issues.

“One is what are you doing with my money? And the harder question is are you relevant to me anymore?” he said. “We have to be open about what we are doing to change.”

At PayPal, it’s about putting the consumer at the center of everything and building trust over time.

“Part of what tech companies can do is to help our customers connect with each other as well as connect with us,” said Franz Paasche, svp, corporate affairs and communications at PayPal. “I think it’s an evolutionary process where we are learning from our customers, and they are learning from us.”

Amazon takes a similar approach to PayPal’s, especially when it comes to creative work.

“The essence of any great brief starts with the customer, and the essence of an awful brief is that it starts with business,” Amazon executive creative director Michael Boychuk said.

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