Stuart Smith
PR, Ogilvy Influencers
Brandspeak: Measuring Trust Through Earned Influence

After the financial crisis, major institutions and corporations suffered a loss of trust almost without precedent. In amongst this maelstrom we barely noticed as a perfect storm began to form around the marketing communications industry. Fueled by social media and amplified by mainstream media, companies discovered just how quickly they could lose control of their message and reputation as customers learned how to express their righteous rage in these new channels.

The PR industry began this period telling anyone who would listen that we “owned conversation and content” but actually it was the beginning of a minor but extended identity crisis for us. During this time brands, and the agencies that serve them, struggled to adapt to a world where people have access to more (mis)information on their companies than ever before. Put simply, we were seeing the early signs of the brave new world we have sought to encourage as modern PR people—a world where companies and brands have reassessed and up-weighted the role of earned communications techniques where once paid channels ruled supreme.

What this all adds up to is the following needs:

  • To reassess PR’s role in modern marketing communications
  • To leverage big (not little) data strategies
  • New methodologies which prove the impact of what PR does

Our industry has needed a new overarching principle to guide our strategies, one that does not narrowly define us only as the architects earned media strategies.


At Ogilvy PR, we believe that models need constant challenge to ensure that they are still fit for purpose and serve the world of marketing and communications well. We and our clients are finding that “earned influence” is a new and helpful concept, particularly in an environment when disciplines and channels are being blended into integrated campaigns. The concept helps strategists and planners understand the role that PR plays in campaign development: across all channels, in the development of the Big Ideal and the design of distribution and amplification.

The concept of earned influence is helpful too in demonstrating ROI. We define earned influence as the moment when customers judge brands to be trustworthy enough to go from loyal customer to brand advocate and key influencers amongst their peers.

However, we know the industry needs to do a better job of quantifying trust and reputation and, more importantly, measuring why it really matters and what to do with the results. This is one of those moments when we need to challenge beliefs and methods that have held sway over reputation management for over two decades.

At Cannes this year, we discussed our Earned Influence Index: an innovative trust-based methodology for using earned influence to develop effective PR campaigns.

Much of what has been written about trust in brands over the past decade has relied on what we feel is a model and set of assumptions which are out-of-date and do not reflect what consumers really think, feel or do. In addition, little progress has been made in the area of demonstrating how building trust and earned influence can significantly contribute to improving the KPIs CEOs use to guide their organisation.


It is time to start a conversation on how we move our industry forward. Working with the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the trust analytics firm Mettle, we are drawing on three years’ research with organisations around the world and 10 years’ academic research. We are now ready to demonstrate how PR activities can drive trust in brands which, in turn, drives performance. Later this year we will launch the Earned Influence Index, comprising initially the top 20 global brands from across automotive, financial, FMCG, retail, and technology sectors.

Although it was social media that hastened the loss of reputation control brands suffered, the conversations themselves provide a rich source of data that—with the right framework—can be used to accurately track, measure and develop insights to improve levels of trust. This is what’s truly unique about the approach. We can create clarity and guidance for a company about how to build trust and earn influence, directly from the chaos that has made it necessary.

We have found that trust is not a homogenous concept, and covers different types of convictions that people hold in their relationships with brands. So the index segments trust into more specific profiles: values trust, competence trust and experience trust. Different types of trust are of different value across various sectors. For example, in the retail sector, customers care most about values trust whereas in the technology sector, they care most about competence trust.

Our index provides three things. How to properly measure trust, how to improve trust in practice and how trust relates to performance. It will have applications for both clients and agencies. For us at Ogilvy PR, it will make the design of reputation and brand programs more precise and enable the creative ideas to have deeper impact.

Trust is more valuable when it earns influence. Relationships are built between customers who understand that brands are trying to influence them but who also judge brands trustworthy enough to accept their messages, and act on the brands’ promises.

Finally, we know that earned influence drives performance. When customers judge brands to be trustworthy enough—the moment when brands have earned influence—those customers will be loyal, early adopters who cross purchase and become brand advocates and key influencers amongst their peers.

We hope the index will initiate a debate on what we measure as an industry and why earned influence is a more robust measure of outcomes.

We hope to that it will bring a new rigour to quantifying trust in brands that will find traction across the C-suite, giving CFOs and CMOs a common language for assessing the value of money spent on campaigns. Through earned influence and these new methodologies, that most intangible of assets we hope became a little less intangible.

First appeared on Brandchannel.

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