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Dear CMO

Mar 31 2015

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If you’ve been around the PR game for more than a season, you've probably been assailed, time and again, by the need for trust. When a brand isn’t trusted, the stories or messages it’s sharing, and the million dollar advertising and PR programs it develops, are often squandered on an audience not ready or willing to receive them.

The axiomatic trust imperative is seemingly unassailable. Its theory and logic sound.

Extremely smart PR pros and highly respected agencies have leveraged the need for trust to market their expertise and showcase thought leadership. They have measured the trusted-ness of one company against others, built equity with terms like “trust deficit,” and sometimes cultivated fear to generate new business.

Like most truths that “go without saying,” the concept of measurable trust, however, is set atop a less than sturdy foundation. Trust isn’t tangible. At best it’s relative. It exists beyond the direct control of a brand within the hearts and minds of others. And, set against itself, all trust isn’t even equal. As one mentor who spent years plying her trade in financial services explained: “Every year bankers are ranked as the most trusted professionals. But no one likes bankers.”

All of this being said, there is no questioning that there's value for a brand to be trusted. The point is not to stop seeking out trust — but it is time to stop worrying about where your brand ranks on a carefully constructed scale.

The best brands don’t ask how trusted they are but, simply and succinctly, how they can be more trustworthy. Being trustworthy is actionable, tangible and within the immediate control of those of us entrusted with building brand equity. Being trustworthy leads to being trusted.

At Strategic Objectives, we have counseled countless senior communications leaders and created award-winning programs to help brands consistently demonstrate their trustworthiness. If you work with a brand and want to ensure it’s being trustworthy, all you have to do is follow these Six #PRapproved Rules for being Trustworthy:

  1. Tell the truth without exception, even though doing so is sometimes difficult.
  2. Transparency isn’t an option. Hiding, in the eyes of the public, is the same as lying and, in the age of social media with smartphone cameras as ubiquitous as dandelions in May, will quickly come to light.
  3. Stand for something and lead with values. Good, trustworthy brands do more than grow sales, engage consumers and increase awareness. Good trustworthy brands make their communities better.
  4. Listen first. Communicate second. No one, not even your most loyal brand fans, likes to be talked at. Listen to consumers, truly consider their feedback and opinions and then communicate with stories and messages that reflect what they have to say.
  5. Consider all individuals as individuals. No two consumers are the same and, while it may not be feasible to communicate with everyone personally, you should never expect two consumers to share the same point-of-view.
  6. Remember who you are and be proud. A brand must be authentic in all ways, always — tone, voice, partnerships, medium, message and more.

It may seem like a meaningless semantic nuance, but the difference between being trustworthy and being trusted is real. Taking action and continually acting in a trustworthy manner has the potential to change public reputation, build reputation and grow a brand. Worrying about where you rank on an arbitrary trust-o-meter only results in a moebius loop of worry.

Do you need help developing a Social PR strategy that exudes trustworthiness? Contact us we’d love to discuss how our creative, values-led approach can help your brand achieve its strategic goals.

We’re also curious, when it comes to being trustworthy, what do you think is most important? Telling the truth, transparency, authenticity, values, listening or consideration. Tweet your answer to us @SO_pr with the hashtag #PRapproved.

We’re great listeners

Let's talk about your goals, your consumers, and how we'll connect the two.