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Can CEOs Fill the Trust Vacuum?

25th October 2016


UK Managing Director Sarah Scholefield, on the second of our #7for17 trends, The Uncertainty Factor

It is safe to say that our confidence in political elites has plummeted to an all-time low.  After the shock of Brexit, or watching in awe as the upcoming US election unfolds who do we, as consumers, turn to when there is little to no faith in political figures? Increasingly, we are looking to business leaders and brands to take the lead.

Thirty-nine percent of the savviest CEOs now have an active social media presence and with it have recognised that they have a golden opportunity. It’s the sort of gap in the market they dream about, offering business leaders a chance to step up to the podium with a receptive audience already at hand.

You may have doubts that a CEO can garner greater following than a political leader, but research now shows that 82% of consumers are more likely to trust a company or brand whose CEO engages on social media. When times are uncertain, we all crave stability, and just as heritage brands are often the beneficiaries of uncertain times, we also seek comfort in business leaders that show us the way, inspire and reassure. 

Think about it, when a CEO of a brand reinforces a positive stance on relevant world issues (social, political or market climate), we are more inclined to trust in their guidance – even more so if they are generally in line with public opinion or those of a targeted audience.

Of course, C-level communication also has to set the right tone. Stiff and unemotional communication no longer appeals to consumers, nor does it sate our demand for increased corporate transparency. More than ever, we are looking to corporate leaders that connect with us through relatable material and feeling. We gravitate towards storytelling, and therefore seek out leaders who have an emotional narrative that is accessible and sociable in nature. 

I think we need to make a broader point than just ‘doing social media’. Let’s use Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, as an example.  Polman is a global business leader who is actually making a difference.  He says that, “Many young people are measuring their self-worth not by their networks but by the difference they can make in their work”. 

Certainly, business leaders can learn from Polman that, in a world that has developed such a lack of trust in leaders, a responsible and truthful leader that can recognise and engineer their business (and its communication) with empathy, can contribute to regaining public confidence.

Business leaders that have stepped up their personal communications brand, are reaping instant rewards and creating advantage for the future of the brands they represent.

Follow Sarah Scholefield and join the #7for17 conversation on Twitter.


Grayling Team

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