In today's fragmented media world where we all have some attention deficit in our busy lives, there are simply too many sources of information thus finding a filter that we trust is extremely important. Most people tend to prefer value, look for key opinion leaders and trust one-on-one communication sources.
Accordingly to a recent "Purchaser Influence Survey" by EXPO provided to eMarketer, over 92% of US mom internet users trust peer review more than manufacturer's brand information. This data should not be a surprise because if you want recommendations for a restaurant or suggestions on buying a new cell phone, you're pretty much going to first ask your friends. If you're really serious about the purchase, you will do your "homework" first by reading bunch of online reviews from Yelp to Amazon before accessing your trusted sources.
Thanks to the increasingly social web, everyone can have a voice in their sphere of influence. As a result word-of-mouth has become the ultimate marketing arsenal for marketers to tap into their loyal customers and advocates to help spread their marketing messages through what it's called earned media.
Earned Media vs Paid Media
As opposed to paid media where publicity are gained through advertising, earned media usually are from real people, not marketers, which explains why consumers tend to trust them more. It's indicative from the survey conducted by Synovate for word-of-mouth ad network PostRelease, over 50% of the word-of-mouth activity was to help a friend or family member with a purchase decision, as well as sharing information they found on the web offline.
While these finding are insightful, it's simply a confirmation that earned media is what's working and will continue to lead the way as we crawl out of this recession. Obviously, there are other factors that contributes to the buying decision that aligns with the "four Ps of marketing" (price, product, promotion and placement), but there is a definite shift in the perception of value that builds on trust.
So how what does trust mean to brands today? According to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer from PR firm Edelman, transparent and honest practices and trustworthiness are extremely important while financial return have fallen below those factors.
One thing I must point out is that these data can be misleading because financial returns actually increased but have fallen behind other factors so there is merely a shift in value perception.
We've gone from push advertising to social influence marketing. Online users have learned to focus on content and ignore online banners (banner blindness) simply because display focus too much on getting attention and have failed to deliver. The concept of getting attention as a way to create brand awareness is being seen as noise which leads to resistance. People have caught on to the fact that more marketers are increasingly behind influential bloggers, social media rock stars and even popular portals by endorsing their content diluting the credibility of peer-to-peer networks.
Long Tail of Trust
In the ear of new media, brands have quickly learned social marketing is build on the idea that people trust their friends more than they trust authorities, but on the other hand, consumers also start to question the intend and authenticity of their social networks.
As I've mentioned previous in "7 Keys to Creating Social Media Strategy for Your Brand", social proof plays a key factor as a weapon of influence, the challenge for marketers is to earn trust as skepticism remains about how long trust will last. When it comes to trust and brand loyalty there is no silver bullet, but knowing what value proposition to focus on and how to make adjustments can help marketers to acquire high level of trust over time.
If you truly want to earn the trust of your audience, don't get sucked into the numbers game. How many Twitter followers, Facebook fans or Linkedin connections you have on is far less important than how you interact with them. Instead of concentrating on how many social network participants you have, try instead to gauge success on how engage they are with your brand.
The take away: When it comes to trust, it pays to earn it over time via high targeted more personalized channel that drives engagement and loyalty. Mass media may reach a wider audience faster but the conversion rate is low and the experience becomes de-personalize. There is still a place for mass media, but there is growing concerns over the value and ROI in the long run.
Moving forward companies should focus on shifting towards a customer centric strategy that retains long term customer loyalty as a sustainable competitive advantage. Unless your brand connects with the customer, your chance of earning trust will be slim. The role of marketing is only going to become even more important and integrated closely with customer interactions.
Get back to the basics in the context of customer feedback. It should be more about starting the conversation to understand the customer's point of view in an holistic effort to co-create value that defines your brand strategy.
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