Some tech CEOs eyed as untrustworthy but certain companies are still favored

Tech moguls Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos all scored on the bottom half of the scale for trustworthiness, according to analysis conducted by global brand consultancy Landor.

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The CEOs of major tech companies face an interesting and challenging public perception. They can sometimes seem like celebrities, generating a certain buzz and excitement among people. But business scandals and other issues can prompt that same public to see them as untrustworthy. A study by consultancy group Landor looks at some top tech moguls and their companies to learn how consumers view them.

Using consumer opinions from the 2019 U.S. BrandAsset Valuator, Landor's analysis encompasses more than 3,000 different brands, both tech and non-tech. For the purposes of the new study, CEOs were considered brands just like their companies. So the analysis didn't compare CEO against CEO or company against company, but rather compared and ranked all of them together as they're seen in the public eye.

Among the tech moguls included in the study, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple CEO Tim Cook both ranked in the 21st percentile for trustworthiness, meaning they were considered more trustworthy than only 20% or less trustworthy than 80% of the other brands analyzed. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg scored in the 13th percentile, meaning he was seen as less trustworthy than 88% of the other brands, while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ended up in the 6th percentile, seen as less trustworthy than 95% of the other brands. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, and John Zimmer, CEO of Lyft, were both ranked in the 2nd percentile on trust.

On a more positive note, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel led tech CEOs on trustworthiness, scoring in the 52nd percentile.

But the negative views held by consumers about these tech moguls don't necessarily extend to the companies themselves, at least not all of them. For trustworthiness, Amazon scored in the 99th percentile, while Apple was in the 87th percentile, meaning both companies were near the top of the list. On a more negative note, however, Facebook was in the 31st percentile, while Tesla was in the 21st. At the bottom of the list was Snapchat, which scored in the 7th percentile, a marked contrast from the trustworthy ranking granted to its CEO.

Why the low trustworthy rankings for certain tech moguls?

"Tech moguls can be seen by the general public as untrustworthy for a variety of reasons," said Attila Tomaschek, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy. "Essentially, public perception of untrustworthiness in tech moguls can be as varied as the companies they have built. For instance, Jeff Bezos is seen by many as untrustworthy because he is one of the richest men in the world, yet reports of unfavorable working conditions and low employee wages in Amazon warehouses have prevailed and diminished his overall level of trustworthiness in the public eye. Tim Cook can be seen as elitist by pushing sleek products but at preposterous price points. Mark Zuckerberg can often be perceived as almost robotic and completely unrelatable to the average Facebook user. Furthermore, Zuckerberg's hollow promises to protect user privacy fall flat when his company continues to falter on privacy matters, which obviously doesn't do much to boost his trustworthiness factor."

And why the disparity between the views of the CEOs and the companies they run?

"The companies are viewed as trustworthy because they have built lovable brands and offer a consistently positive consumer experience," said Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees. "People love the variety of goods they can buy on Amazon and the ease with which they can do so - no matter what Bezos' personal escapades are. Whatever you order is there within a day or two - fast delivery. Facebook has enabled literally billions of people around the globe to connect and stay in touch - even though the Facebook CEO was selling massive amounts of data about them without their knowledge. Apple has designed and manufactured stunningly designed products that look sleek, provide industry-leading innovation - and work, no matter their US employment status, tax avoidance practices, or manufacturing operations. Whatever the behaviors of the person at the top, their brands are lovable."

With the low trustworthy rankings given to certain tech moguls, could this type of public perception affect the actual business or product sales?

"For Apple and Amazon, at least, the perceived untrustworthiness of their executives would have little to zero impact on their bottom line," Tomaschek said. "The services that Amazon offers and the products that Apple delivers are already so well established and so deeply ingrained in consumers' consciousness that for many it can be difficult to live without. Amazon's services are so convenient that consumers practically never have to leave their own homes to shop for anything. The convenience factor and the breadth of its offering are largely responsible for why consumers will continue coming back to Amazon. As for Apple, the company has built such a devoted following that is so emotionally connected to its products that the trustworthiness of Tim Cook is completely irrelevant to sales or the company's bottom line."

Still, CEOs are missing out on opportunities to better connect with the public, according to Maarten Lagae, Landor's director of insights and analytics.

"I think the biggest insight from our analysis is that CEOs are missing out on a massive opportunity," Lagae told TechRepublic. "If you're leading a technology company, very often technology is considered a bit faceless, scary, anonymous, compromising privacy. The opportunities that CEOs have is to put a face and a human touch on their companies and their products. And I think our analysis shows that a lot of these high-profile tech CEOs aren't completely leveraging that potential."

Using the BrandAsset Valuator data of 17,000 U.S. consumers, Landor Pulse analyzed brand strength based on relevance and differentiation among adults aged 18 years and older.

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