Last week I attended a morning panel presentation at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School featuring Richard Edelman, Chairman and CEO of Edelman. Richard discussed the 2007 Edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of influentials from 18 countries and their perceptions of trust and credibility in different organizational sectors and information sources.
There are many important findings in this report with relevance to health communication and marketing. For example, the information source now perceived to be most credible in both developing and developed countries is a “person like me,” followed closely by doctors and health care specialists. Perceived similarity is defined by sharing common interests, holding similar political beliefs, or coming from the same community, as opposed to having the same nationality, gender, or race/ethnicity. (The least credible sources were PR executives, celebrity endorsers, and bloggers!)
We know from Bandura’s work that perceived source similarity is a major mediator of social and observational learning. We also know from the work of Petty, Cacioppo, and colleagues that source perceptions matter most when receivers are least engaged, and that the level of receiver engagement is affected by perceived message relevance, external distractions, and numerous other audience characteristics and situational factors. What does this all mean for health marketing today?
Credible and trusted sources are more important than ever for effective health interventions. In today’s health marketing milieu, overflowing with terabytes of ever changing and contradictory health messages created and shared by experts and users 24/7/365 through every channel, the new reality is that almost all health information processing is peripheral. Only the most trusted sources can be heard through the noise.
My take home message from the Trust Barometer is that effective health marketing must now embrace what Richard Edelman calls the “sweet spot” at the nexus of vertical (or top-down) communication from respected experts like CDC scientists and from horizontal (or user-generated) communication from “people like me.” This intersection where traditional media meets new media will define the future of consumer-centric health communication and marketing and will revolutionize health in the US and around the world. Trust me!