Samuel Dobbs, who would later become president of The Coca-Cola Co., started a campaign in 1909 on behalf of higher ethical standards in advertising. By 1911, his campaign had become a crusade for the Associated Advertising Clubs of America, the forerunner to the American Advertising Federation. In 1912, a National Vigilance Committee was formed to focus on regional and national advertising and became known as the National Better Business Bureau of the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World. Years later it would become known simply as the Better Business Bureau.
The year 1912 was a time when Americans faced issues not unlike those we face today: immigration and poverty, labor and monopoly battles, work safety and child labor. And it was a time when people were taking a stand and a tremendous effort was being made to give the common man, woman and child a greater voice.
The BBB serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming will mark A Century of Trust when the BBB Foundation honors businesses from Northern Colorado and Wyoming with the BBB Torch Awards for Business Ethics on April 24. Eleven businesses are nominated for this year’s awards and range from a small Wyoming-based family organic beef business to a Northern Colorado company with 6,000 employees worldwide.
The BBB’s initial mission 100 years ago – to set and uphold standards for ethical business behavior – continues to be the cornerstone of our mission today. And now all consumers – men, women and children – have an even greater voice. In fact, the 2012 Edleman Trust Barometer indicates that “a ‘person like me’ has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople …. Social-networking, micro-blogging and content-sharing sites witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information about a company.”
So where is trust headed? The 2012 Trust Barometer reveals that the factors responsible for shaping current trust levels are less important than those that will build future trust. Consistent financial returns, innovative products and highly regarded senior leadership are the primary factors on which current trust levels lie. However, listening to customer feedback and putting customers ahead of profits are far more vital to building future trust.
At BBB, we’re not entirely surprised by this trend. Over the last five years, we have seen an increase in both the number of BBB Business Reviews requested and the number of complaints being filed. In 2010, consumers requested 87 million BBB Business Reviews, an increase of 78 percent over the number requested just five years earlier. On average, more than 6 million people visit bbb.org each month. The number of complaints filed also has increased dramatically. In 2010, we processed more than 1.1 million complaints, compared to about 850,000 complaints in 2006.
Corporate and political scandals, phone scams and uncertainty on Wall Street have greatly impacted consumer confidence and trust. Reuters research conducted in 2011 indicated that consumer sentiment has slumped to levels similar to the mindset during the recession of 1980. Consumers are cautious, hesitant and uncertain, and it’s reflected in both consumer spending and consumer confidence.
This skepticism is responsible for a new breed of consumer: the “Get Real” consumer, who has been identified by the research firm Iconoculture as being grounded firmly in reality. Frustrated by an overwhelming number of marketing and media messages – consumers are exposed to as many as 3,000 to 5,000 advertising messages daily through TV, radio, the Internet, billboards, newspapers, etc. – today’s “Get Real” consumer values authenticity, honesty, integrity, reality and trust and they expect these same values in the companies with which they choose to do business.
There are thousands of examples of consumers and businesses building solid relationships based on trust, many in Northern Colorado and Wyoming. Our 11 Torch Award finalists are exemplary of local businesses upholding ethical standards.
I encourage you – if you haven’t already – to take positive steps to let your customer know you are a business they can trust.
Pam King is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming.