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Do Marketers need to think differently about Trust?

Erica MacKay, co-director of The Marketing Detective Agency explores the way technology has transformed the way we trust, and explains how marketing strategies should adapt accordingly.


Trust has always been an important aspect of marketing, whether you are attracting new customers or retaining existing ones. However, trust has evolved over time and marketing needs to adapt as well. 

Trust in our daily lives

Growing up we were given very clear rules: Stranger Danger: Don’t talk to strangers, don’t go to strangers’ houses, don’t get lifts with strangers. How the world has changed. Fast forward 40 years and I quite happily on a daily basis get into a strangers car and get them to deliver me to my desired location. I stay in strangers’ houses when I travel even when sometimes those strangers can’t speak a word of English and we can’t talk to each other.

Technology has changed the way we look at trust. With Uber and Lyft I am quite happy to get into a stranger’s car because I am able to book them on my phone. I know their name, number plate, car type, and colour before they arrive. I can track their progress but also send this information to a loved one if they need to track my progress. Because there are very few unknowns, I am comfortable to get into the car. And even when you hear the odd story of sexual harassment and kidnapping, it’s the exception and not the rule and it’s convenient and I need to get from A to B and so I still get in the car.

The same with Airbnb. The app allows me to see pictures of the house, get comments from previous people who used it and see all the details of the house owner. And language is not an issue because you can use the translate feature on your phone to translate the text. You can also chat with the owner beforehand and clarify any questions you have. 

User reviews also play a big part in this evolution of trust. We no longer need to trust authority figures (who have been known to let us down in the past). We can trust other people like us to tell us the truth. And although people have different expectations, needs, and requirements and may be nothing like us, we trust their comments. Especially if there are many of them and they are all saying similar things. 

We are now happy to order food online and have someone bring it to us. We trust that it will be good quality or we will leave a bad review. We order clothes and shoes with fitting them on and order groceries, even meat and fresh produce – without checking it, seeing if it’s expired or bruised or rotten. Our trust in strangers has evolved. It’s so strange. Whilst I am still struggling with trust when it comes to my preteen daughter (“Don’t worry mummy, everyone will be staying out until 10pm”), I have no problems with trusting strangers with other aspects of my life.

What does this mean for Marketing?

As college basketball coach Bill Carmody said: “The more someone likes you, the more they begin to trust you. This transforms the relationship from one of buyer and seller to the preferred position of subject matter expert and interested party.”

Marketing is no longer as per the advertising of old where the use of experts could get you trust. A cigarette advert stating that 4 out 5 doctors smoke them or a celebrity stating she uses Tide detergent would increase sales dramatically. Remember those? Businesses are now expected to be their own experts and build their own trust. User reviews are scrutinised and testimonials are expected. 

Alex Jasin has a great analogy of a Fake Rolex salesman. If someone sidles up on the street and wants to sell you a “Rolex,” you’ll likely run. But somehow a lot of digital marketers expect to just pop up in people’s feeds with product or service offers and expect them to buy without building a trust relationship first. But this is a mistake.

Another great analogy I recently heard from Lisa Linfield is that getting a lead is like getting a first date. You could try just walking up to the person and saying “Hi, I’m awesome, do you want to go on a date?”, but I doubt that this will be a successful strategy. Instead, you need to get to know the person, try and be introduced by friends and then find a common interest. A bit more work but more likely to succeed. And you also need to think about what you want out of that interaction. Do you just want their phone number or do you actually want them to say yes to the date? The levels of trust needed in each interaction are different. 

How do you build trust?

  1. One of the key steps before you start any activity is to understand who your target audience is. Your target audience together with your product or service will create a unique marketing message, addressing their pain points and explaining how your product or service will solve their pain. Once you understand your target audience you can speak in a language they are comfortable with as well as place your message in media that they utilise.
  2. The main way to build trust with your audience is to create and share valuable content, thereby establishing yourself as an authority in your industry. Content that adds real value to your audience is appreciated and will keep them coming back for more. This will make you and your business the go-to person when they have a business, need that you can fulfill as you are top of mind. 
  3. Use personalisation in all your communication with your customers. According to Mckinsey and Company: Personalization can deliver 5-8 times the ROI on marketing spend and can lift sales by 10% or more. Personalisation can be simply changing your tone and focus depending on your segment or using the client’s name in an email or using advanced AI.
  4. Be consistent with your message and your tone of voice across all platforms. Make sure you have no inconsistencies or contradictions in all your communication channels including your website and emails.
  5. Be personable in all your communications. Use a real name on emails. Use pictures and profiles of those who work at your business to show that there are real people working there. Use videos and live chat where appropriate to share your content so that people can see who you are. Share your story if you are comfortable because people like to know who they are working with.
  6. Be available to your customers and allow them to interact with you. Create ways for them to contact you, whether it’s through email or messenger or via live webcasts or calls. Customers often have questions, and if there’s nowhere for them to go to get their queries answered, or you don’t respond in a timely manner, you could begin to lose credibility.
  7. Make user reviews and testimonials a part of all your material and easily available for anyone who wants to find it. This gives credibility to what you are offering. But make sure you are keeping the good and the bad. No one is going to believe a company that only gets 5 stars from every customer.
  8. Follow the example of Uber and Lyst and ensure your client is clear on the journey they are going to go on with you. If they fill in your landing page do they know what happens next? Are they going to get regular emails from you? Being clear upfront with the process will help give confidence before clients give you their data.
  9. Today, consumers have a high level of mistrust, not only in brands but companies, services and governments and therefore delivering on your promise as a company needs to happen on every interaction. Customer experience boils down to everything before, during, and after their interaction with your brand. Customer experience must be applied to both online and offline customer interactions.
  10. Recent academic research shows that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands and that corporate social responsibility (CSR) can both strengthen brand trust and boost profits. Consider the social impact—and message—of your brand.
  11. On the more serious side, make sure that you are clear with the client as to how you are using their data and what they can expect. In Europe, the GDPR guidelines are really clear on asking for permission expressly and storing their data securely. You also need to tell a client what you will do with their data and only ask for data that you need. This is very important even though it’s not the sexiest part of the process.

What are the benefits of building trust?

  1. From a purely commercial perspective, trust is vital in the path to purchase. First, they need to know you, then they need to like you, then they need to trust you, then they will buy from you.

  1. Trust will also bring you customer loyalty when competitors come knocking at their doors. Why should they start a new relationship, when they already trust you?

  1. Trust brings word of mouth customers. Happy customers who trust you and have had a great experience will tell their friends and family and the storytelling will lead to positive reviews and more people trusting and buying.

  1. Trust is the building block for long term relationships – repeat buyers. 

It’s really clear that trust is the cornerstone of marketing and businesses need to spend some time thinking about how they plan to build trust with their customers. This is not new but with changes in customer expectations and technology, we need to adapt our thinking and evolve as well.


To read more of Erica’s articles, visit her website by following the link below.

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