The Case for Measuring Trust

Monday, October 3 2022 Jeff Marshall EVP, Customer Solutions Categories:

Why Trust is Important to Our Clients


At Protagonist we’ve noticed a significant uptick in our clients’ focus on trust.  It’s no wonder–they understand intuitively that trust is important, and many of them have read the research, so they know the stakes are high.  83% of consumers refuse to do business with brands they do not trust, while 62% will stay loyal to a trusted brand. Trust can make or break a business.

It’s clear that leaders of companies know trust is important, but they struggle to answer their natural next questions:  Why do people trust (or distrust) my company and others in our market space? What can we do, or say, to earn people’s trust?  How will we know if what we do is working?

These questions may seem straightforward, but they can be frustratingly difficult for companies to answer.  Trust and distrust are multifaceted and dynamic–they have many drivers, and the importance of those drivers can change with events, technological developments and shifting societal preferences.  Traditional research methods can come up short as they try to capture the nuances of trust.  Surveys tend to focus on preconceptions about what drives trust, so they miss important factors.  Focus groups offer more open-ended exploration, but are so small-scale that they miss major portions of a trust landscape.  Faced with these challenges, companies often give up–our research shows that less than half measure trust regularly, despite its importance.

We created Trust Analytics to help these clients.  With Trust Analytics, we’re analyzing very large data sets, sometimes in the hundreds of millions of social media expressions, so we’re able to capture the full range of causes of trust and distrust.  Our methodology is open-ended–the machine learning models discover the drivers of trust within unprompted expressions “in the wild” of social media–so they don’t have the presupposition bias that undermines other methods.  And, importantly, the data are rich with people’s complete expressions, so we can double-click into the fullness of those expressions to more deeply understand trust and answer the questions our clients naturally ask.

Over the years we’ve been able to put these capabilities to good use with leading companies across a variety of industries.  Here are a few examples of why trust is important to clients we’ve worked with recently:


A Candy Company Lives its Values:  As the health effects of sugar became more prominent, an iconic candy company came to Protagonist to understand how they could continue to bring joy to customers–responsibly.  The key was trust–being transparent with consumers about what was a healthy snack and what should be an occasional treat.


An Energy Company Makes a Transition:  As climate change solutions start to take hold, an energy company realized an opportunity to add carbon storage to its portfolio.  Once seen as a cause of climate change catastrophes, the company could now play a positive role in combating carbon in the atmosphere.  But would all stakeholders–the general public, policymakers, investors and employees–trust in the company’s ability to make that transition?  Everyone’s trust–earned through action and communication–would be necessary for the company to succeed.


A Hollywood Studio Appeals to a New Audience:  Younger audiences are demanding different kinds of entertainment–shorter form, edgier, on multiple platforms and devices.  Traditional Hollywood studios are scrambling to meet this demand, which is not only new but also fickle–younger viewers are ready to click over to YouTube or TikTok the moment our clients’ new channel didn’t match their tastes.   By creating a trusted brand known for consistently delivering the kind of content a younger audience wants, our client was able to successfully launch a new, multi-platform channel.


A Pharma Company Stays True to Its Mission:  Protagonist helped a major pharmaceutical company to understand the narratives about drug pricing.  The battle was between the narrative of a life-saving company living its mission and the narrative of a for-profit company taking advantage of vulnerable people.  The stakes were high–not only market share, but also a regulatory environment that would allow our client to thrive as a business and accomplish its mission. And the key to winning the narrative battle was trust–understanding which words and deeds earn trust, and which erode it.


A Hardware Provider Captures the Cloud:  The last decade saw the migration of server infrastructure to the cloud.  As consumers, most of us have experienced this transition seamlessly, but for many organizations faced a bewildering set of decisions–what to put into the cloud, what to keep on premise, and how to balance issues like security and cost.  Our client, a leader in the traditional on-premise hardware space, wanted to help those companies make that transition.  To become that trusted partner, they needed to understand the foundations of trust for companies moving to the hybrid cloud.


You get the idea–trust is critical, no matter your industry.  Over the next few posts, I’ll go into more detail about our Trust Analytics work to date and where we see Trust Analytics going, fueled by our latest innovations.