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March 09, 2021


The Greatest Challenge We Face Is The Lack Of Trust

The T Word: Where Can You Turn in a World That Lacks Trust?

There have been a lot of challenges in the last 12 months. As we come up on the one-year mark of the pandemic, though, the big thing we need to talk about is trust.

Who do you trust? The issue goes deeper than the pandemic, for sure, but it’s all coming to a head right now. Canadians—like many others around the world—are lost. We don’t know who to trust any more. Scientists? Social media? Politicians? Big business? They all seem like bad choices, all the way down.

Skepticism is nothing new. But we’re going to need to pay particular attention to this feeling right now—and navigate it the right way.

The Erosion of Trust

The pandemic has shone a light on the erosion of trust in Canada and other countries in the last few decades. We can point the finger at a lot of different areas to see the lack of trust rising in our societies.

We can look to our politicians. The Trudeau government has been embroiled in controversy after controversy. Look at the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Sure, the Liberals were trying to “save jobs”—because the SNC-Lavalin brass said they’d stay in Canada if we changed the law.

There’s a big question there. Should we change the law just so we can keep corrupt businesses operating? Yes, jobs, but where are the ethics? Are these really good jobs? And can we trust this company to actually follow through on its promises?

And what about the WE scandal that broke last year? Prime Minister Trudeau handed out a hefty contract to the charity, which he had close personal ties to. And let’s not forget this isn’t the first time the federal Liberals have gotten in hot water over favoritism.

This isn’t the first time Trudeau has landed himself in hot water either. He’s embarrassed Canada on a global scale by donning blackface and tweeting about things he has no business sticking his nose in. To top it all off, we haven’t seen a budget in two years—where will the country be at the end of this?

We also have politicians taking tropical vacations in the middle of a pandemic, even as they tell voters to “stay home.” Ontario is apparently sitting on billions that could provide relief for small business owners. But those funds have a best-before date—and can be used to pay down the provincial deficit once that passes. Where does that leave our small business owners, the people in our communities? Seems like we’re all left taking out personal loans and declaring bankruptcy.

Canadian politicians aren’t the only ones mishandling things; look at the recent fiasco in Texas. Senator Cruz took off to Cancun during a pandemic, during a natural disaster. The state’s governor blamed “wind power” for rolling blackouts. At the federal level, President Biden has started walking back promises on minimum wage and stimulus relief checks.

We all know, on some level, politicians are liars. They tell us what we want to hear so they can get elected. But in an uncertain world, we need someone to look to for leadership—but it’s clearly not our politicians.

Can We Trust Big Business?

We can look again at Texas to see the failures of big business in action. Privatized power companies kept the lights on in affluent neighbourhoods and business sectors. But rolling blackouts happened elsewhere, leaving many poorer people without access to heat, cooking, and even clean drinking water.

Megachurches initially refused to open their doors. The power companies are now charging extreme rates to people who didn’t even have power for several days. Some bills are as high as $8,000.

What about big business like Amazon, Google, or Facebook? We know we can't trust Amazon. The retailer saw huge gains last year as everyone switched to online shopping. Earlier this year, they decided to shutter some warehouses. They offered employees the “choice” of relocating to work 10-hour graveyard shifts or … being fired.

People point the finger at social media for letting misinformation run rampant. People are seeing one side of the argument or information based on the content they click on. Right or wrong, information that can feed conspiracies, platforms like YouTube push this content to unsuspecting users. Then it’s down the rabbit hole.

All in the name of profit. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook—they don’t care about what they’re pushing, as long as it keeps you glued to your screen. That gets them more sweet ad revenue, which is all they want.

Even Google is becoming more and more sinister. We know Google’s long listened in on us. Gmail “reads” your email for relevant content, then pushes ads accordingly. Google tracks you around the Internet, following your search history. If you have a Google smart speaker or Nest, then the search engine giant has data on pretty much everything you do.

And Google isn’t alone here either—Facebook collects data, as does Amazon via its Alexa line of products. Your phone and all the apps on it are listening to you too.

What are these companies doing with all this data? We know Facebook let Cambridge Analytica have it back in 2016, and we saw what they did with it. They used that data access to push misinformation into the feeds of millions of Americans. That may have swayed their political opinions and changed how they voted.

And we’re still seeing misinformation. There’s tons of misinformation about COVID-19. Since the science keeps evolving, it’s almost impossible to know what’s “true” and what’s “not.” Even trusted sources like WHO keep changing their guidelines and measures. Now, that’s just good science, but it makes it hard for us to know what’s accurate, what’s not, and how to weed out rumours and lies.

Can We Even Trust Each Other?

In this environment, it’s little wonder we’re all feeling so lost and confused. When the pandemic first broke out last year, there was a sense of unity and solidarity that lasted a few weeks. That disintegrated, and we’re all now mistrusting each other. Is your neighbour going to call the police if you are seen visiting family? Will someone send the police if the kids are playing street hockey on the street? Have you noticed how shows on television with hugging or groups of people together are beginning to feel uncomfortable? Do you believe the covid data and media scare tactics being pushed at us or do you feel like we are beginning to be like sheep? Who do you trust? Where can you get trustworthy information?

We have all been changed. Our basic foundation to feel secure and allow us to judge has been shifted with this climate of fear and skepticism. Without a strong degree of personal security, everything we see and hear is filtered through a psychological lens that creates doubt or perhaps even fear. There’s a “yes, but …” attached to everything.

This is an enormous challenge, not just for us as Marketers but for society as a whole. We need to rebuild our trust for ourselves in order to have more trust in each other. The big question is, how?

People aren’t confident in their elected leaders right now, which means there’s a space (and a need) for leadership. And people have turned to brands—but there’s also a lot of skepticism about businesses too. And, with the rise of social media and all the divisiveness it’s caused, there’s a lot of misgivings about each other.

So, how do we solve it? I don’t think brands can do this alone—Marketers can’t solve a society-wide problem. We can, however, work to build our customers’ trust in us. We can do that by staying true to our values and supporting our customers as best we can. That might mean being totally transparent about what data we collect and what we do with it. It might mean pausing to look at what our values are—beyond “making profit.” It might mean tuning in to our communities, the people “on the ground” living everyday life and figuring out how we can connect with them in a real way.

There’s a lot of work to be done in this arena. Marketers can’t do it all, but we do need to be aware that this is the big challenge for us—for everyone—in 2021.

So—we need to come back to that central question: why. Why do people connect with us? Why do we connect with people? What do they believe we stand for and how can we prove their faith in us isn’t misplaced?

Even a big challenge like this comes down to that. So start with the why!


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I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

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