In a post-trust world, let's focus on 'belief'

As sure as world leaders heading for the slopes in Davos, so the Edelman Trust Barometer rolls round and dominates industry headlines for a news cycle.

'Trust' is not enough. We need 'belief', argues Chris McCafferty
'Trust' is not enough. We need 'belief', argues Chris McCafferty

And so it should. It’s a phenomenal piece of PR IP.

However, as anyone who has worked with me will know, my favourite mantra is this: "If you're doing something the way you've always done it, you're probably doing it wrong."

And I'm increasingly questioning trust.

Do I trust trust to deliver engagement and change? Do I believe trust is the right measure in today's values-driven world? Or is a new post-trust era emerging where we have to believe in something bigger?

Trust and reputation have been the common currency in our industry for decades. Do consumers, employees, investors and regulators trust our clients to be reliable, truthful and capable? Tick? We have reputation.

I no longer think it's enough.

I believe we have to embrace a new era: the era of belief.

This is an era focused as much on emotion as it is on logic. An era where audiences need to believe our clients are not just trustworthy, but will step forward to make a difference.

The era of belief will be defined by actions, not words. It is a world of energetic activism, not logical agreement. A world of polarised opinions where people are often passionately for something, or passionately against it, but increasingly rarely indifferent. We have to help our clients be on the right side of that divide.

Belief moves us beyond the rational. The origin of the word means to care, to desire, to love. It helps us feel certain something is true. It helps build confidence. Belief helps us care deeply.

Ultimately, we make our decisions based on our beliefs, not just who or what we trust.

Test it. Think of movements you believe in. Maybe it’s the climate emergency? Equal rights, diversity and inclusion, ecology, fair pay, protecting the NHS? Think about the leading voices in those debates. Do you trust them? Almost certainly.

But do you believe in them too? Which is more powerful? Your logical trust, or your all-encompassing belief?

Now apply the same process to brands. Not such an easy task. I could name dozens of brands I trust, but not nearly as many I believe in. But for those brands who are truly close to my heart, like Filling Pieces or Channel 4, I'd argue my belief in them is way more important than my trust.

Can we create Greta levels of belief for all of our clients? Probably not. But we can learn from the emotions and methods that make that movement so magnetic.

And that's why I'm choosing to believe in a post-trust world. It's why I'm choosing to believe in something bigger. I choose belief.

Chris McCafferty is group chief executive at MSL UK

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