Decoding the Critical Components of Buyer Trust

B2B buyers are conditioned to view vendor-provided information with a healthy dose of skepticism, and this lack of trust can weaken the impact of all marketing efforts. Marketing alone can’t create buyer trust, but the right marketing approach can make it more likely trust will develop.

Trust has always been a vital component of business relationships, but it has become a critical issue over the past several years largely because of growing concerns about the collection and use of personal information by business organizations. Trust is likely to become an even more important issue as companies increasingly use various forms of artificial intelligence.

Business Is More Trusted Than Other Societal Institutions

Recent research has shown that people trust businesses more than other societal institutions. One of the largest studies of trust is the annual “Trust Barometer” survey by the global communication firm Edelman. 

Edelman’s research focuses on trust in four societal institutions – government, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and media. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer polled over 32,000 people in 28 countries. 

The 2024 survey found that survey respondents trust business organizations slightly more than NGOs and substantially more than government and media. Based on the 2024 “Trust Index” scores, business organizations are “trusted” in 15 of the 28 countries included in the survey and “distrusted” in only two countries. In the 11 remaining countries (including the U.S.), business earned a “neutral” score.

Respondents in the Edelman survey also rated business organizations as somewhat more competent than NGOs and far more competent than government and media.

On the other hand, public perceptions regarding the honesty and ethics of people working in advertising aren’t great. In Gallup’s 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll, 49% of the respondents rated the honesty and ethical standards of advertising practitioners as low or very low.

The Foundations of Buyer Trust

Trust can’t be manufactured; it must be earned from potential buyers. While marketers can’t unilaterally create buyer trust, they can take steps to create an environment that makes potential buyers more likely to extend their trust. The starting point is to understand what leads to the development of buyer trust.

In a business context, the decision to trust a prospective vendor depends on buyers’ perceptions of three vendor attributes.

Ability – Does the prospective vendor possess the requisite knowledge, skill, and competence to perform in a way that will meet my organization’s needs and expectations?

Integrity – Will the prospective vendor fulfill its promises? Will the vendor’s actions match its words and claims? Does the vendor adhere to ethical principles that I find acceptable?
Benevolence – Will the prospective vendor be sufficiently concerned about my organization’s welfare to put our interests at least on par with its own?
Specific Factors That Drive the Decision to Trust
The three vendor attributes just discussed provide a sound foundation for understanding the fundamental drivers of trust. However, recent research has also identified several specific factors that will influence the development of buyer trust.
A 2023 study by PwC surveyed 2,508 U.S. consumers and asked survey participants to rate the importance of several factors when deciding how much to trust a company. The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents who rated each factor as very important.

These findings are remarkably similar to the results of a 2019 survey of 2,200 U.S. adults by Morning Consult. In that research, Morning Consult asked survey participants what factors are very important when considering whether to trust a company. The following table shows the 11 factors identified by more than 50% of the survey respondents.

What is noteworthy about the findings of both surveys is that when U.S. consumers are deciding whether or how much to trust a specific company, they place the greatest importance on factors that directly impact their experience as a customer.
The findings of these surveys are also important for marketers because they reveal issues that are important to potential buyers.
Obviously, marketing alone can’t ensure that buyer trust will develop, but marketers can influence buyer perceptions about ability, integrity, and benevolence, and about the issues revealed by the PwC and Morning Consult surveys through the content and messaging they produce.
Top image courtesy of Terry Johnston via Flickr (CC).

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