Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 28, 2011

Trust on Decline Unless You’re Recognized as an Expert Study Finds

Leanne Hoagland-Smith suggested I take a look at a very interesting post by Steve Rubel that draws attention to some recent research his company, Edelman, the largest PR firm in the world, has done in the area of trust.  His findings are most interesting for sellers and small business owners even though his real target is larger corporations engaged in constructing advertising and public relations campaigns.

One of the major findings is that there has been a decline in the number of people who trust in a person “just like myself.”  Rubel goes on to give his analysis: ”I believe the reason for this is that, as more of us join social networks, there’s been devaluation in the entire concept of ‘friendship.’”

Another finding was that trust of credentialed experts increased to 70%.  According to Rubel, “This is a trend that began last year. In addition, for the first time we looked at the credibility of technical specialists inside a company. Trust in this group is off the charts (64%). This hits home the need to identify those with expertise inside a company who can engage across different channels, many of which today are digital – or will be soon.”

Very important for us in sales, the study also found that in developed countries such as the US and the UK people need to hear a message as many as NINE times—and from multiple channels to effect behavior change.  Now this study was looking at media communication, but human nature doesn’t change—if it takes multiple hearings in multiple channels for marketers to change recipient behavior, it’s logical to assume the same is true when dealing directly with prospects and clients (one of the reasons historically we’ve had to we talk to them, give them collateral material, and make formal presentations to them—multiple hearings from multiple channels).  The key here is how many times the recipient had to hear the message before behavior changed.  Nine.  That’s a lot—and most of us probably give up on a prospect long before they’ve heard our message nine times.

You can get a mini-whitepaper of the study here.


  1. Friend Has definitely taken on a new meaning that has changed trust and relationships with a domino effect.

    Hearing a message nine times is up from seven times 10 years ago, almost 30%. Do you think that is related to trust, the amount of noise to filter through, or a combination both?

    Comment by Gary S. Hart — January 28, 2011 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

    • Personally, Gary, I think the increase in the number of hearings is primarily related to the amount of noise. Whether we’re talking about advertising, social media, one-on-one interaction, or whatever, it’s just really difficult to cut through all the noise and all the claims. More than ever people are drowning in a sea of marketing messages–non-stop from the second they wake up to their clock radio to the second they turn off the TV at night as they go to bed. Life has become just one continous marketing message that some how we’ve got to bust through and that just takes time. As the study says, multiple hearings, multiple channels–it makes sense to me.

      Comment by Paul McCord — January 28, 2011 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

  2. Paul and Gary,

    I think you’re both right to highlight the signal-to-noise ratio as a key driver of the need to shout nine times.

    You guys get it right, but there’s a distressing amount of commentary on that aspect of the Edelman report coming out, mainly from the communications people, who infer from that data that they need to increase the number of messages and the number of channels. In other words–the lesson they take away is, ‘let’s keep on doing more of the very thing that is driving trust down in the first place.’

    Paul you’re right; ‘drowning in a sea of marketing messages,’ aka spam, aka spin, aka Big Lie messaging–all it does is destroy trust in the messages themselves. The pharmaceutical industry is a great example of what happens when you do saturation carpet-bombing of customers with the same old self-serving messages–you end up with a set of customers who refuse to believe anything you say.

    You took the headline from Edelman, that ‘trust is on the decline unless you’re an expert,’ but it’s a very badly written headline, I think. The story here is not that ‘people like me’ are less trusted, the story is that the ‘experts’–i.e. the deep pockets big money messagers–are saturating the previously-personal networks like LinkedIn and Twitter. The declined in the meaning of ‘friend’ is really an increase in the vapidity of those who are invading ‘friend’ networks.

    What’s the way out? Wish I had a solution, but it’s some kind of collective action. Every time you add another ‘friend’ just to get your numbers up, you’re contributing to the problem itself. Call it ‘friend inflation,’perhaps.

    Anyway–thanks to you two for highlighting the issue.

    Comment by Charles H. Green — February 9, 2011 @ 10:30 am | Reply

    • Alas, Charlie, you’re right–marketing is going to read this as a mandate to up the noise level–and ultimately drive trust levels down even further.

      I still, however, have a bit of hope that real experts can increase their trust levels even as the deep pockets spend billions on trying to drive their ‘expert’ status.

      Comment by Paul McCord — February 9, 2011 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  3. […] Trust on Decline Unless You're Recognized as an Expert Study Finds … […]

    Pingback by Profitable Telemarketing Services: 4 Tips To Get Sales Leads. | Work At Home Covert Opps! — February 28, 2011 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

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