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Our Simplicity Talks podcast gathers insight from across the global Siegel+Gale network on the issues and trends shaping the business landscape.

In this episode, we delve into an apparent “crisis of trust” facing some of the biggest industries and names out there, from the Big Four accountancy firms to Big Pharma. This week we get views on this crisis and what it means for the players caught in the crossfire from Design Director, Mike Tyson and Ben Osborne, Director of Insights, EMEA.

Robert Costelloe: Before we get into the conversation about this alleged crisis of trust, first we have to look more broadly Ben, what is trust from your insights/research perspective, what is trust and is it a measurable? What can brands and organizations be doing to build trust?

Ben Osborne: Brand trust feels very intangible at first but actually it is relatively easy to deconstruct. Trust is typically three things which you can measure. It’s about what you say and how you say it so let’s say honesty or transparency. I think this is where a lot of brands focus their attention. It’s about being true to yourself or being authentic and not pretending to be something you’re not. This is something we can break down and measure. It’s also about how you treat people. The way that you continuously treat people impacts whether or not you earn their trust.

However, trust is very different from other branding attributes that you can measure. Branding attributes are, essentially, the building blocks of brands. They’re what we work within the industry, but trust is different because it’s not typically a spectrum. Trust is binary. You either are trusted or you aren’t. Because of that, a lot of companies think they can just say “we are a company with integrity” and that is a value that imbues them with trust. However, that is really just a hygiene factor. It’s the least that is expected and something which you really have to build upon. Without trust you can’t be credible but trust is not credible in itself. It’s simply not enough on its own.

RC: Mike do you have a different perspective?

Mike Tyson: To me, fundamentally it’s walking the walk and actually doing what you say you’re going to do. I think Ben makes a great point on the consistency behind that. You have to do what you say you’re going to do consistently. It can’t just be a one-off promise that you have guaranteed someone. It’s something that people can expect your service or product to deliver on again and again and they can rely on that.

RC: I think that brings in an interesting element- this idea of brand purpose and that links into authenticity.

MKC: The idea of authenticity is really important because so many brands want to be seen as authentic rather than actually being authentic. The Edelman Trust Barometer that recently came out indicated a real loss of trust in various sectors over the past few years. Do you guys think there is a “crisis of trust” in business at the moment?

BO: I think the crisis of trust is, definitely, real. You see this across a number of studies and smart brands are reacting and trying to get closer to customers. They are targeting a more niche audience rather than the mass market or the mainstream one, showing off their human, more transparent and more sincere side.

But for me, sincerity is the real challenge here. For example, we recently had a flood of emails about GDPR. Suddenly, all these people are saying “hey, you can trust us with your data” and it became the most insincere thing ever. It reminds me of politicians and leaders like Trump, or leaders in organizations who say “trust me” a lot. As soon as the company asks you to trust them you suddenly think “hang on, is there a reason why shouldn’t I trust you? What is it that I don’t know? What are the things that are happening behind the scenes?”. It’s not reassuring. Reassurance is something which has to be brought to light and demonstrated through the brand, not simply declared. This goes back to what you were saying there, Rob, around the brand DNA and purpose.

MT: Coming at this from my shamelessly American perspective, I see truth being inextricably linked to trust. If you’re not selling the truth you don’t have that trust. We live in this “post-truth” reality where there are a number of contradictory “truths” people seem to live by, or perceive to be reality. But there are a lot of not only political concerns but private and business concerns, be it privacy issues with Facebook or the data breaches or even the improper cultures being built at companies like Uber. How do we build or reshape the conversation to focus on truth and trust in what we know to be morally and ethically right? Trying to amplify those practices through the way we conduct business, I think, is critical.

MKC: We’ve been talking a lot about building trust with end consumers from a brand perspective. What about what’s happening in the b2b space, with the big four accountancy firms? These firms don’t speak directly to consumers so does it matter whether we trust them or not?

BO: That’s a really interesting question. One of the things we were talking about off air was the Academy Awards where PwC gave the wrong envelope and there was a massive uproar. I don’t think, as consumers, we care. In fact, it’s something which adds more drama to an activity and to the event. However, PwC threw the humans involved under the bus. I think they blamed Twitter or that the person who was in charge of the envelope was distracted by a digital device. People are human and we all can empathize. I think the brand was still intact in the end but if I was a B2B customer of PwC, it would have impacted me because, essentially, you are buying the humans. It’s very odd to throw the humans under the bus in that context.

RC: Behind every business is a group of people. I think we forget that sometimes.

MT: Yeah, I mean it’s interesting to see there’s a tangible effect of this lack of trust. For example, it was recently reported that, at KPMG, there’s been an almost 80 percent drop in public sector contracts since 2015. It is actually having an effect on the bottom line.

RC: In terms of the role of the CEO or that leadership figure reputation, how important are they as trust builders?

MT: I can immediately point to Martin Shkreli (former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals) as a perfect example of the figurehead of a company that absolutely decimated its image within a matter of a day or two. There is a huge responsibility in the people who represent the ultimate decision makers of a company to do the right thing. I think particularly when you’re looking in the big pharma space, you’re dealing with people when they’re at their absolute most vulnerable.

They want people to tell them that they have their best interests to heart. And so, when you have people like Martin Shkreli, casually raising drug prices by a factor of a thousand percent or more, they feel deceived, betrayed and lost. It’s important for people who are at the top of these companies to come out and speak about that, more so than just a marketing campaign trying to compel people to buy what they’re doing and try to tell them they have their best interests in mind rather than the bottom line.

MKC: In B2B, you don’t interact directly with consumers. We have a saying here at Siegel+Gale, and this is a shout-out to Rana Brightman (Senior Director, Strategy, Siegel+Gale, London), “it’s not B2B it’s B2ME” because it is people that make up businesses. So, even if you’re selling B2B you are still selling to people. That’s why the idea of trust is incredibly important. Mike, you brought up the pharma space. In the Edelman Trust Barometer it showed that the pharma sector has seen its biggest ever loss of trust in the past 12 months. Why do you think that is?

MT: It ties exactly back to my previous point around Martin Shkreli and the affordability of healthcare. The conversation in the UK is very different around the NHS and how people have a given right to healthcare. I think that there are additional issues that exist outside of Big Pharma’s control pertaining to healthcare and how people perceive the industry in America. I think they have not only an opportunity but indeed a responsibility to lobby for improved healthcare regulations that look after people who are at their most vulnerable.

Again, it is about making that step that says, “look we’re not necessarily looking out for our bottom line or the ROI but we actually want to do something that helps people get better”. Fundamentally, I think there is an issue or perhaps a tension when we consider the fact that pharmaceutical companies make money when people are buying their drugs. Therefore, it makes more sense from a business case than from a capitalism point of view where you don’t actually cure people but rather you just sustain them and create somebody who is dependent on your drugs for the rest of their lives. So how do they actually break through that tension to deliver a product that can cure people and, in turn, will ultimately receive greater support and greater affection from the public?

BO: I think tension is an interesting word as well. I was with focus groups in Boston earlier this year and specifically talking with patients about who they trust. It was for a pharmaceutical company, so the ultimate aim is to help them to build trust with these people and there is a real tension in how patients perceive the industry.

Thinking about the news in recent months, Trump has been saying that he’s waging war on the pharma companies for the opioid crisis. He’s also saying the prices are too high. Medicaid and so forth are being pushed to negotiate further with these guys. They are very much being cast as “the enemy” and, on top of that, you’re building on a long history of class action scandals again going back to big profit margins and the fact that these companies are perceived as making money out of treating someone’s symptoms rather than treating their actual condition.

But, conversely, Pharma companies are actually helping people whether their heart is in the right place or not. You trust them to create drugs that will make a difference! It will save children’s lives. There’s that reassuring expensiveness about drugs whereby the price tag guarantees efficacy. Whereas you wouldn’t trust a drug coming out of certain parts of the world if it was three times cheaper than a drug that was made in the West. You don’t trust them because they’re expensive. But you trust them because they’re “Expensive”. That’s the real challenge for branding and storytelling.

MKC: Obviously with generics, for example, the cheaper price is a factor in the decision-making process. However, is it the most important factor? Is there something that big pharma and branded drugs have that generics perhaps don’t in that they have provenance?

MT: Yeah, I think certainly that’s the case. Price is a factor, particularly in America, that is on the top of my mind in the way that simplicity comes into the mix here. I was reminded of the company Help Remedies – the generics that have beautifully simple packaging and very direct messaging. There’s something so pure about just stripping away all of the gloss and the slickness of expensive marketing campaigns that try and reinforce the provenance and the grandeur of these hundred year old companies and just get directly to the point and say “look here is just a white little box that has a cure for your headache”. There is something really wonderful about that kind of message I think.

BO: We have to remember that in the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare professionals are representing their patients. They work on trials and their decision-making then isn’t about price, it’s about which companies can add value to their portfolio of skills and raise their professional profile. Trust is very important here because, through the nature of that collaboration with HCPs, it is built through thought-leadership and reputation- whether you’re educating patients or you’re raising an agenda, lobbying and building the profile of things, or through innovation, you have to be trusted by HCPs and your partners.

Innovation is interesting. It is the thing which drives relevance in the industry in the sense that a strong pipeline converts to optimism, hope and excitement, which builds this trust. I had a great story from speaking to an HCP earlier this year. He was telling me about how every Christmas he would speak to his niece who was suffering from a condition and she would come to him and say “is there anything new which is going to help me” and every single year he’d look her in the eye and have to say, “no”. Then one Christmas he could say, “yes”. That is his day to day – delivering hope. If you trust the brand to do that for you then it’s a massive emotional connection and much more than a B2B relationship.

MKC: Ben, you highlighted a really interesting dichotomy there between who pharma companies are actually targeting. Are they targeting consumers? Are they targeting doctors? We know that HCPs are looking at new content sources for disease information rather than turning to pharma companies for branded information. How can pharma companies in this changing environment more personally target and engage HCPs with the B2Me rather than B2B model in mind?

BO: The model is based around reps visiting HCPs in their place of business and, historically, they could just lay out their wares. Often, when it’s a patented product it’s the only choice they’d sell. I think more and more, going back to the B2Me model, it is about really understanding your audience – understanding their human qualities and the decision-making complexities they face. I think brands being able to show empathy kind of leverage that trust on a human level. I think people are much more sensitive to what they do see online but the human touch is massively important.

And again, jumping back to the States, they do advertise directly to patients. They have those adverts which transparently lay outside effects with very quickly-spoken “small print” to build trust. But they risk losing trust because you are being too open. I think those sorts of conversations are very much best done at the personal level and it’s about the ways that we can create alignment with our sales force but also with HCPs themselves.

We have a proprietary research methodology here at Siegel+Gale called Engage. It is all about measuring alignment to a brand amongst the people who are talking to end users. It could be your sales force, but it could also be the actual healthcare professionals themselves. How do we make sure that they’re correctly aligned in terms of both their knowledge and preference of our products, brand, values, and purpose? We do a piece of research amongst that audience to understand if the challenge is we’re not educating people or that we’re not informing people correctly about our brand and products. The challenge in this field is how you bring that to life.

MT: I immediately thought about when I’m sick and I need to go buy a drug, whether it’s prescription or over the counter and I go into a drug store. Big Pharma doesn’t own the actual retail environment in which their products are purchased. What’s fascinating is that this is when you’re dealing with people at their most vulnerable state. Yet, they go into these drugstores and it’s absolutely cluttered with products, it’s the dingiest, most unwelcoming environment with horrible music playing and you just wonder why it couldn’t be something more analogous – like the Australian cosmetics company Aēsop.

Why can’t going in to buy drugs where you’re putting your life and trust into the hands of another company feel like a more efficient, simple environment. Another brand story I was thinking about is Domino’s Pizza from 2009. At the time, they were getting a lot of criticism about the delivery being slow and the product being terrible. Then they created this beautiful little campaign where they had the figureheads of the company come to the people, hat in hand saying, “We screwed up and we forgot why we’re in business. It’s to make pizza. We were cutting costs trying to find better ways to make a return on our investment. The end result rather is people are completely dissatisfied with what we’re making. Therefore, we’ve completely reorganized the business. We’ve completely redone the recipes, restructured the way in which we make deliveries, rethought our brand identity” and all of a sudden, the sum total net effect is a better pizza delivery to you faster. It was just really lovely to have that honesty in seeing people say outright on a Domino’s commercial “Yeah, our product kind of sucked”.

RC: It’s a nice way, in being transparent, to show that honesty and start to rebuild trust. I think that’s something a lot of organizations could learn from.