If any of the world's automakers have a dose of the Monday blues, here's a little something to cheer them up: a new survey from research firm Edelman shows that the auto industry is the second-most trusted in the world, just behind the technology sector. And while that may sound surprising, given all the hullabaloo surrounding players like General Motors, Chrysler, and Toyota the past two years, the results make a lot of sense -- and more importantly, they prove that the auto industry is at the forefront of some important business trends.
First, a few details about the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of consumers around the globe. This year's study contacted 5,075 people in 23 countries across five continents, all of whom were between the ages of 25 and 64, college-educated, and in the top 25% of household income for their age group and country. The survey focuses most heavily on what we'd call "well informed" individuals, the idea being that they can give the most accurate, "informed" reflection of each industry's image. (Whether the study's findings would hold true with a broader sampling of the population is highly debatable.)
Each survey respondent was asked a series of questions about corporate behavior -- for example, how much do they trust businesses, government, and the media to do "what is right"? Obviously, the definition of "what is right" can vary wildly, but respondents said that the most important factors for corporate reputation were high quality products and services; transparency and honesty; and whether they treat their employees well. And those with the least impact on reputation? Innovation; admirable leadership; and offering financial returns to investors.
As you can see from Edelman's chart above, the tech sector handily walked away with the #1 spot, with 81% of respondents saying they trusted the sector to do what's right. Automotive came in at 69% -- a somewhat distant second, but well ahead of the three bottom-feeders: insurance (52%), banks (51%), and financial services (50%).
So how did the auto industry nab the silver medal?
For one, there's what we'd call the Underdog Effect. 2009 was a terrible year for the auto industry, and many automakers saw big shakeups. (Just think of General Motors and its stream of high-profile hirings and firings, not to mention its sale/shuttering of HUMMER, Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn.) To the general public, those actions signaled an end to business-as-usual and a sign that automakers were trying to mend their ways.
For two, there's the greening of the industry. Nearly every car company worth its salt has begun developing a range of hybrid, electronic, and/or alternative-fueled vehicles. In the process, automakers have told the public that these vehicles are part of their efforts to save the planet and counteract some of the environmental damage that cars and trucks have caused over the past century. Whether that's purely marketing spin or not, it surely makes automakers look better in the public eye.
And for three, there's social media. We talk a lot about transparency these days and how important it is for every entity -- government, media, corporations, etc. -- to be forthright about what they're doing. Striking a balance between oversharing and undersharing is tricky, but social media can create the illusion of transparency and give customers the sense that they have access to the CEO's ear. Companies like Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen have done some very interesting work on the social media front -- in fact, they're setting the standard for other industries.
If you'd like to see a slideshow about the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, click here. And if you have a few moments to spare, here are a couple of related video clips.
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