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Trust: the ultimate elevator

By Andreas Reinbolz, Daniel Schäfer and Ralf Steinmetz


If you believe the headlines – or rather, because you can’t believe the headlines – you’ll be aware that we’re living in an age of a trust crisis. Fragmentation of information sources, a polarised political climate and the increasingly weaponised environment of social media in our age of ‘fake news’ have led to declining public trust in all institutions.

According to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer report, while healthcare is hardly the most distrusted of institutions (unsurprisingly, in our era of ‘fake news’ that dishonour falls to the media), there is clearly still work to do in lifting the industry’s reputation for doing good. This is particularly apparent for the traditional ‘big pharma’ sector – shaken by scandals such as pricing, manipulative patent litigation and a rampant opioid epidemic.

But, beyond the concerns of the general public as reflected in the Edelman data, the pharma industry also has a separate ongoing, and not easily resolved, trust problem when it comes to its physician customers.

Trust in the industry

2019 data from Pharmafield highlights that only a third of respondents actively trust the industry as a whole, with more than half citing a belief that the industry only publishes results of positive trials as a key driver for this.

Nevertheless, the data also makes clear that not all companies are perceived as equally trustworthy/untrustworthy, with approximately 50% of respondents citing a history of personal interactions for believing that some organisations are more trustworthy than others.

For those of us in healthcare communications specifically, this creates issues around the effectiveness and efficiency of our  communications efforts. As demonstrated by research from Ipsos last year (‘How reputation and trust affect purchase decisions and marketing efficiency’), trust provides a halo to brands and acts as an ‘elevator’ of a number of performance indicators.

For example, not only are customers more likely to see and believe communications from companies they trust, they’re also more likely to be influenced by this advertising in terms of purchase decisions and willingness to spend a premium. Essentially, communications on behalf of even the best products – promoted by the most finely crafted messages – can be compromised by lack of trust.

A dedicated assessment methodology

To address this, and better support our clients in developing an actionable understanding of trust between a company, its brands and the specific audiences it targets, Syneos Health has created a dedicated assessment methodology, delivered as part of our online HCP survey/ insight suite, with two unique components.

The first of these components is a composite approach to scoring based on academic literature, which not only considers the familiar facets of trust (eg, perceived credibility, reliability and intimacy), but also seeks to understand perceptions of a brand’s ‘self-orientation’ – how successfully it puts customer needs and expectations before its own interests. This moves us beyond a simple evaluation of the urgency for action, to a position where we can begin to define where and how – in terms of content, tools or services – we need to act.

Secondly, and more importantly, our approach is designed to overcome the well- documented limitations of conventional survey scoring approaches. Instead, our survey platform is built upon learnings from the fields of neuroscience and cognitive linguistics, specifically the use of metaphor- based surveys and implicit association tests.

For example, in a metaphor-based survey deployed on our platform, the respondents are provided with an on-screen avatar which they are asked to move further away or closer to a visual prompt to indicate how ‘close’ they may feel to
a brand or its assets. In this way, we are able to infer feelings via proxy, rather than just by direct questioning and simple/flawed rational response.

A multi-dimensional measure of trust

The end result of applying these techniques is that we can define a more nuanced, multi-dimensional measure of trust for a product or corporate brand as it relates to each of its specific audiences. This score can then be indexed and fed into ongoing KPI measurement and management, building an understanding of the impact of recommended actions on elevating communications effectiveness and efficiency over time.

So, while we can’t change the headlines of the global trust landscape and restore general public faith in organisations and institutions, we can at least help our clients and partners to see any current areas of distrust not as threats or weaknesses, but as actionable opportunities to elevate both customer relationships and the effectiveness of all communication to these customers.

Andreas Reinbolz, Daniel Schäfer and Ralf Steinmetz, Syneos Health Communications

In association with


16th September 2019

From: Marketing


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