Trust and the Real Brain Trust

Who do you trust?

It’s 2022. Who do you trust? In our divided world, this could be one of the most pertinent and critical questions of our time.

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 proclaims that Trust has declined (again) in government and media but stayed stable year-on-year for businesses. Within this framework, we must ask ourselves what, as the most trusted sector of society, the role of business is right now? Especially since 52% of respondents agree with the statement that: ‘Capitalism as it exists today does more harm in the world than good’.

Kanye West framed it in an interesting way in a 2019 interview, when speaking about business leaders. “…it seems like all the innovators” he said, are “just working for the valuation of a company, … as opposed to …renewal”.

Renewal? That’s bold. Particularly in light of the traditional view that the sole purpose of business is to realise shareholder value. Business knows this. 

Which is why business has been donating to schools, poorhouses, and orphanages since colonial times. Corporate social responsibility was the ‘90s answer to the problem, after University of Pittsburgh professor Donna J. Wood published Corporate Social Performance Revisited in 1991, which expanded and improved on early CSR models by providing a framework for assessing the impacts and outcomes of CSR programmes. 

By the early 2000’s CSR became an essential strategy in most businesses. Then came ESG, a term coined in a landmark 2005 study called Who Cares, Wins. This expanded the expectations and responsibilities of business beyond ‘charity’ to actual impact, covering everything from how business respond to climate change, how good they are with water management, who they recruit, how they manage their supply chains, how they treat their workers and whether they have a corporate culture that builds trust, growth and innovation for the betterment of all society.

The definition of trust is ‘a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.’ And therein lies the crunch. What is it exactly that we trust businesses to do? Do we expect companies to smoothly deliver their product or service, or have social expectations grown? Is business set up to meet them? If society trusts business more than other pillars of society, and if business realises their responsibility towards ESG factors, are we meeting in the middle yet? Is that even possible? 

Which brings us to brand purpose, defined by the American ANA in their The B2B Purpose Paradox report of 2020 as ‘a company’s reason for being beyond profits that guides its business growth and impact on society.’ Not a thing that sits on the wall in the office foyer, but a thing that should be lived within and beyond the delivery of the product or service of the business. (The ANA calls the gap between a company’s stated purpose, and their lived or activated purpose, the Purpose Paradox).

The report found growing adoption of a purpose strategy in B2B companies and found also that the primary reason stated for doing so was business growth. Why? In this landscape, where often there are deals of massive values on the table, measurable impact of various ESG and transformation agenda factors can often mean the difference between closing or losing that deal. In fact, the report found that the majority of B2B purchasing decision-makers choose to source from companies with a well-articulated purpose and are willing to pay more for their products and services.

It’s clear, then, that there is one way to deliver both what B2B business needs by definition (shareholder growth) and what society is increasingly demanding of business, which is an active, sincere, and authentic role in shaping the future of the world. For business today, brand purpose is the way to get there. As corporate speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “If people like you, they will listen to you. If they trust you, they will do business with you”. And to quote Kanye once more, “It all starts right there”.


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