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February 2011

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Why Trust Matters
9 Practical Tips to Improve Marketing Effectiveness

by Kip Wotkyns

Trust is a curious thing. Having faith in someone - trusting a person or an institution can be a bond that is stronger than steel. Witness a mother bonded to her young child, or a soldier's unflinching obedience to a commanding officer, or how you feel when you board an airplane for a flight. The weight of the world can hang on the bond of trust. We will literally step into the void holding only a thread of trust.

Yet trust is ephemeral. It's invisible. It takes years to build up trust, but only seconds to destroy it. And once broken, trust does not return easily or quickly. Trust is earned, slowly over time, one bit at a time. It is a gift given by hopeful people and can not be bought or sold.

As Coloradoans who've been through some pretty turbulent times the past three years. Distrust, suspicion and disbelief are everywhere. Institution after institution has generated disgust, dashed dreams, broken hearts and frayed important bonds of trust.

Distrust is rampant
Item - trusting the media: Colorado consumers simply do not trust the media. According to Alexandra Feniwick and Columbia Journalism Review's most recent analysis “State of the Media, By the Numbers,” 71 percent of Americans now feel that most news sources are biased in their coverage. Seventy percent feel overwhelmed rather than informed by the amount of news and information they see.

Item - trusting big business: We are at a generation-changing moment in history. Coloradoans don't trust corporations to do the right thing. With Colorado unemployment hovering around 8.5 percent, and job prospects for many of us grim after the bitter taste of layoffs, it will be a long time before employees start trusting businesses again.

Item - trusting religious authorities: Support for the Catholic Church is in freefall as the sex abuse scandal metastasizes. The Vatican is facing one of its gravest crises in centuries. The whole affair is making secular citizens and church-goers alike sick to their stomachs and distrustful of the Church.

Item - trusting the U.S. government: Trust in our political leaders and the U.S. government is also nearing an all-time low. According to the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll, 75 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress. Coloradoans are increasingly cynical about and dissatisfied with the local, state and national government as services continue to be cut to balance budgets.

Item - trusting financial institutions: Trust in banks and the financial system in general is at historic lows. Since the Great Recession started in mid 2007, over two trillion dollars of wealth has evaporated. Kenn Bisio, an associate professor of journalism at Metro State College recently said: “My 401(k) went to a 201(k) in just a few months.”

Rebuilding Trust In The media
Because information equals sustenance, shelter and safety, the journey towards rebuilding trust should begin with the media. To live a life without trust is to descend into paranoia, fear and despair. Hope is a good thing. Creating a sense of hopefulness makes us feel better about ourselves and increases sales. Trustworthiness is crucial to marketing and advertising.

Specifically, here are nine practical tips to help you rebuild trust:

1) News sources that seek the truth and report it. Believe in journalists who are honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Trust is nourished by truth. Lies are poisonous to building trust.

2) Understand that full disclosure is essential. Use news/information sources that are clear about where and how they get their funding. Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

3) Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

4) Show some faith. If you've done your homework and found good information sources, don't second-guess them. This might require a stretch on your part, but if you act suspicious you encourage others to be suspicious of you.

5) Understand that there will be bumps in the road. Bumps are normal, so be reasonable. There is no “perfect” information source. Keep your eyes on long-term trends and ignore minor mistakes.

6) Focus on two-way communication. Relationships require trust between the two parties. Do not expect miracles. Journalists should be accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

7) Be charitable and generate a sense of gratitude. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have. Your most cherished possession may not have a monetary value.

8) Get used to the “new normal.” If you think this is only a cycle, you're just wrong. This is a permanent reset. There is going to be elements of the news cycle that will never be the same, ever. The “new normal” is slow economic growth, more “news” that sounds like rants or raves, quicker and tighter timelines, and the threat misinformation promoted by biased sources intended to mislead. That's why it is more important than ever to use trusted information sources.

9) Think twice before acting on emotion. Decisions can be taxing even in good times. Today, however, it's crucial to realize that the stress can impact critical thinking ability. The same instinctive reactions that enabled man to survive in the jungle create trouble in the real world of 2010. Don't let quick, emotional reactions override rational thinking.

Kip Wotkyns is an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Previously, he worked for Time Inc. He was a reporter for FORTUNE magazine and a copy editor for TIME magazine. He was also the President of Leman Publications Inc., a magazine publishing company formerly owned by Rodale Press Inc. His undergraduate degree is from Stanford University, and his graduate degrees are from Columbia University.

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