Trust, Confidence, and the American Consumer

September 28, 2008 Updated: September 29, 2008

WASHINGTON—America’s younger generation—people from 25 to 34 year of age—appear to be quite a bit less cynical about business and their activities than those aged 35 to 64. Consumers in these two age groups are heading into different directions, according to the ninth annual “Edelman Trust Barometer 2008.” Edelman is a New York-based public relations firm.

“For the first time [the survey] reveals that many younger people, historically cynical about business, tend to trust it more than their older counterparts,” suggests the report.

More interestingly, those younger than 34 are more trusting, while the elder generation is getting more cynical. A cause could be that those in the above 34 age group have seen and experienced deception, lost jobs because of financial finagling by the firm’s management and have seen companies go under during recessions.

“Trust is created—or eroded – every day a company is open for business,” warns the report.

The decisive factor in this conclusion is the information sharing activities by the younger generation. The younger generation reads information freely available on Internet daily, and shares its understanding, negative or positive, on blogs, message boards, through forums and social networks such as Facebook and other Internet venues. At the same time, they do not neglect to take into consideration the more conventional media, such as business magazines. 

According to the report, the younger generation is more up-to-date concerning industry news. They have accumulated a deeper understanding on the intricacies and hidden aspects of business dealings than their elders.

“They respond to a company’s actions in an entirely new way: with information. ‘Info-entails’ gather information in a profoundly different manner than their older peers,” claim the researchers. They liken this younger new breed of people to a “bee pausing to gather pollen at several flowers.”

The report suggests that companies become part of the discussion pool and perhaps influence their behavior and understanding of business. The information imparted during discussion has to match press releases, annual reports, and other business material published by companies.

“Share your content with your employees, passionate consumers, and bloggers, allowing them to co-create, repurpose and improve their knowledge through dialogue,” advise the researchers.

At the same time, the Consumer Confidence Survey, a brainchild of the Conference Board, a research organization, published at the end of August that consumer confidence has improved since the end of July. The confidence index moved from 51.9 points in July to 56.9 after continuous declines in earlier months.

“Overall readings are still quite low by historical standards,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center in a press release.

Experts Tackling Consumer Trust and Confidence

Consumer trust and confidence erodes when the management is portrayed as heartless and egoistical. such as in the Donald Trump “The Apprentice” show. This show glorifies people who are exacting towards their employees and their suppliers and fire people without blinking on eye.

“Every week, all of the wannabe moguls try to impress Donald Trump by preening, cajoling and conniving,” suggest University of Pennsylvania professors in the article “In the Game of Business, Playing Fair can Actually Lead to Greater Profits,” published by Knowledge and Wharton (KW), the publishing are of the University of Pennsylvania.

The professors suggest that business people, if they treat their customers fairly, will establish a trusting relationship with their customers, consumers and all those they interact with. This will result in an all around maximization of profits.

“Fairness, an even-handed approach must pervade an entire corporate culture, otherwise it will not work. If the Donald Trump image offends, we must look at the core beliefs and culture in which he became the measure of success as a CEO.  Changing this archetype will require courage and a refusal to, simply, conform without questioning,” suggest Kathleen Cole, freelance editor in remarks to the KW article.

KW professors suggest that equitable pricing is the fundament that established a trust relationship. All those involved in the supply chain, from manufacturer to wholesaler, retailer and consumer expect to pay or be charged a fair price for the product.

To establish price fairness, those down the supply chain require a clear understanding of what it costs to produce the product, so they can understand if the price is fair or not. That in turn requires transparency by the manufacturer.

“With transparency, it works better. You would know what’s fair and what’s not,” said John Zhang, a University of Pennsylvania marketing professor, in the KW article.