We rarely have perfect knowledge about an individual or organisation; we can’t know everything about their behaviour and thinking.
So we develop trust as a short cut. When we trust something we give it the benefit of the doubt. Trust matters today more than ever.
Trust in businesses and organisations is at an historic low, but change that and people are more likely to want to work for you; consumers will choose your product or service over that of a rival and are more likely to forgive when things go wrong.
As Rupert Murdoch once said: "Our reputation is more important than the last hundred million dollars." And he should know.
Much has been written about trust but most of this analysis looks at who has achieved it, not how you create it.
Trust needs to be earned and re-earned. It exists when many different elements in an organisation – performance, actions, decisions and behaviour – come together.
In my experience trust is built when questions about reputation are placed at the heart of every decision. All parts of the organisation – including supply chain, operations, pricing, sales and marketing – think about the impact its decisions will have on the reputation of the whole.
A reputation is never perfect; it is always at risk and could always be better.
It requires a constantly evolving strategy, checks to ensure the message is resonating and adaptations to the approach when it’s not.
It’s a restless person that will make this happen, someone who has intense focus on people’s opinions and how to change them.
That’s why business can learn from the best political campaigns. Political campaigns are dynamic; they adapt and improve.
They have a goal in mind and are led from the top with a clear decision-making structure.
Great campaigns arise from a clear understanding of their audience, the channels that will reach them and how they want that audience to feel and respond.
They create big moments that cut through the noise of modern media and they do this through multiple channels to create ‘surround sound’.
They unite people within the organisation in a common aim and direction.
In politics the people who build the best campaigns tend to have a deep understanding of comms.
Within business it is the corporate affairs or comms function that is best placed to manage reputation.
That function has a company-wide view and the best understanding of the impact business decisions have externally.
The best corporate teams invest in better metrics to track reputation, have greater visibility of the reputational risks from within and without and have a seat at the top table to ensure their voice is heard.
It’s not the tail wagging the dog, but it does result in a well-trained dog that more people like.
Even though the comms function is best placed to manage reputation, it is a mistake to think that reputation can be fixed or made through comms alone. It can’t.
It requires what we call reputation campaigning; embedding the responsibility for reputation at every level of the organisation so that it comes to life through each action the business and its employees take.
Great reputation campaigning is never content with just managing a reputation; the aim is to transform it.
Do that, and your comms activity adds hard value to an organisation.
It builds that elusive, important and intangible asset – trust.
Chris Norton is managing director of Blue Rubicon London