Canadians are less trusting, and hungry for fundamental change: Edelman study

Edelman released its annual Trust Barometer this week, and the data paints a picture of an increasingly anxious populace. People are anxious about the future, uncomfortable about new technology, worried about their jobs, and increasingly distrustful of institutions including governments and businesses.

Each year, Edelman looks at differences in trust levels between the mass population and what it calls the “informed public”—those with higher education, higher incomes and higher levels of media consumption.

Trust is always lower among the mass population and higher with the informed group, although both groups revealed a drop in trust levels this year—the mass population dropped from 54% to 51%, while the informed group fell from 74% to 67%.

However, a closer look at specific questions also reveals some eye-catching data that indicates growing demand for societal change.

For example, 74% feel a sense of injustice, 69% express a desire for change, and 53% (a 4% increase from last year) say “the system is failing me.” Insights into the social psyche are important for businesses (and their brands) as they try to better meet the needs and desires of their customers.

The Message spoke with Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO, Edelman Canada and Latin America, about some of the data.

•47% say capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good. It’s the first time Edelman has asked this question. The distrust levels have become so pronounced and widespread that many people are questioning the basic model underpinning the global economy. “I think that a lot of what’s driving that is certainly income inequality,” said Kimmel. “As we’ve seen growing concerns around income inequality, people are actually questioning capitalism as a model.”

That number illustrates just how important it is for leaders to look hard at how they can re-establish trust with the population, said Kimmel.

•76% of people say they are worried about losing their jobs. This is one of the data points Kimmel points to as part of the explanation for the growing demand for change and concern about capitalism itself. “I found it quite astounding,” said Kimmel. “We’re currently in a high employment economy, and yet 76% are worried about their jobs.”

The top five concerns for people worried about losing their jobs are: the freelance/gig economy (56%); lack of training/skills (50%); a looming recession (49%); automation (45%) and immigrants who work for less (43%).

66% are worried technology will make it impossible to know if what people are hearing or seeing is real (62% said the pace of change in technology is too fast).

It’s not that people don’t want technology innovation, it’s that it is happening too quickly, said Kimmel. When brands adopt new technology, they need to do a better job of explaining why to consumers—who have become skeptical about new tech.

“Why is it that I need to upgrade to or try a new type of technology? Make the case to me in a more compelling way, because I’m overwhelmed by all of the tech choices that are out there. I need to be able to trust [the brand],” she said.

•8%: the drop in trust level for the technology sector. Tech has always been one of the most trusted sectors, but this year there were clear signs that trust is falling—down eight points and falling out of the top three (behind education, healthcare and transportation). The findings seem to indicate that the tech lash is real, and there is growing hostility toward big tech, especially the powerful duopoly.

“Facebook and Google, they’ve faced steady  criticism over the last couple of years, and they haven’t figured out how to address all the concerns around data and privacy, and then there are also these misinformation campaigns that are being disseminated through their platforms,” said Kimmel.

•80% want CEOs to take the lead on change rather than waiting for governments (up 12 points since 2018). For anyone skeptical about “brand purpose,” this number suggests that people are looking at businesses to lead change and address concerns like jobs for the future, the ethical use of technology, income inequality and climate change.

Institutions and brands build trust by being competent at what they do and behaving ethically, said Kimmel. “Consumers and other stakeholders increasingly want to know that a company, a brand, is going to truly lead authentically in a purposeful way,” she said. But it has be an ongoing commitment that permeates all aspects of the organization.

“It might be a journey, and that’s okay. You can be transparent with consumers and other stakeholders, that you’re on this journey to become more purpose driven, that you’re focused on sustainability but it is not going to happen overnight, as an example.”

David Brown