February 8, 2018

The Decline of Institutional Trust

Trust is dead.

But the ire of the masses is well deserved.

For generations, we’ve seen brands like Enron bamboozle their employees into bankruptcy. From Firestone tires popping and flipping SUVs to hoverboards catching fire and VW falsifying emissions, the common consumer is not immune either.

As the first decade of the new century began to wrap up, alternative media began to get massive followings. The trust in journalistic ethics that have served western democracies for hundreds of years began to give way to fear, hate and greed.

In the middle to late years of the last decade, we saw the forces of mistrust, hate and greed rally behind the megaphone of social media. From hash tags of hate to bots and fake Twitter followers, the forces of mistrust have leveraged this new media channel.

Even something as simple as football and our national anthem, something that used to be a welcome distraction on a lazy Sunday is now embroiled in controversy.

There is the fusion of our industry and our discipline: Health Care and Advertising. We’ve had our share of scandals, but nothing compares to the mistrust one feels when fighting the insurance companies while a loved one fights cancer.

The bottom line is nobody believes anything anymore.

But today, there is new opportunity.

When one institution dies, another can step in.

There are two simple takeaways here for health care marketers.

Stop Saying. Start Doing.

Rely less on advertising to sell and more to tell stories. Use real stories that illuminate what you have done. While trust in words is gone, it has opened a huge door to trust actions. Don’t talk about how great your breast cancer program is. Launch an initiative to get 1,000 women in your service area to have their first mammogram instead.

Do it. Don’t say it.

The patients you are trying to reach don’t believe in the myth of money anymore. They suspect that’s all you are after. Prove them wrong through action. Because in this post-trust world, when you do earn trust, they will value it more than ever.

Make Your Workplace a Sanctuary for the Truth.

Our patients are living in the post-trust age but so are our colleagues. Imagine the power of employees who truly trust their employers, especially in our industry where the delivery of care and the attitudes behind it make all the difference in the world.

In the past few years, I have consulted with hospitals that truly struggle to tell the truth. Reestablish your relationship with the truth. When rolling out messaging to internal audiences, ask yourself, are we being as transparent as possible?

We are already seeing trust as an issue in the headlines. But as health care marketers, this new post-trust paradigm will hit us particularly hard. We all have thought of platforms like Facebook as a Golden Ticket to patient volume. But what is the American relationship with these platforms today? Think about it, you are using media channels that people don’t trust to tout an industry people don’t trust. We need to look at how we trust these platforms to achieve our objectives, and we need to look at them through skeptical glasses.

We need to find new avenues to build a new kind of trust. Those organizations that apply the rules of common decency to their operations will have a competitive advantage far greater than buzzwords, gurus and studies.

If you are a brand that does good, good people will follow your brand. Join the coalition of the decent. The truth still matters. Embrace it, and people will embrace your brand.

You won’t just be a better organization. You’ll be better people. And that’s something everybody is eager to put their trust into.