Customers Don’t Trust Brands, They Trust Themselves.

by Mack Collier

ForresterStudyThe above graph comes from a Forrester report How to Build Your Brand With Branded Content (I was given a complimentary copy for this post).  The graph ranks how likely customers are to trust different forms content.  Note that the Top Four types of content are partly or wholly created by customers, not the brand.  The fifth most-trustworthy form of content is information on company websites or blogs, and then less than a third of customers trust these sources.

This won’t be breaking news to any savvy marketers, who know that customers tend to trust other customers and recognized experts, and they tend to distrust brands.  Note that the least-trusted sources are ads at the bottom.

One of the reasons why I wanted to write Think Like a Rock Star was to help brands become better connected with their most passionate customers, because this makes their communications more credible to other customers.  When brands start connecting with their customers and listening to them, the way they connect with their customers changes.  They begin to speak in a new voice:  The voice of the customer.

For example, what if you started letting your customers write guest posts on your company blog?  Your brand, and the content it creates on its blog, instantly becomes more credible and trustworthy.  What if you started interacting with your customers on Twitter and Facebook?  Then you’d start to understand them (gasp!), and the content you create in the future would be different, based on the interactions you have with your customers.

Customers gravitate to communications that are spoken in a voice they recognize: Their own.  Here’s three ideas for incorporating the voice of your customers into your brand’s online communications:

1 – Embed product reviews on your website.  Ideally, on any product pages on your site.  This is a great way to make your brand more trustworthy, plus it helps you have easy access to feedback from your customers.  Plus, in actually increases sales because it helps customers manage expectations (which also leads to fewer returns).

2 – Provide a customer service forum for your customers.  Give your customers a place to seek help and information about your products and services.  Bonus points:  Enlist customers to help monitor the forum and help other customers.

3 – Let your customers guest post for your company blog.  If you encounter a customer that leaves a thoughful review about your product, maybe you should invite them to write a blog post talking more about your product and especially how they use it.  Let them talk about who they are, and HOW they use your product, moreso than the product itself.

The overarching point here is, when you become more connected to your customers and their point of view, it changes your brand’s communications, and makes them more credible and trustworthy to other cutomers.  Give it a try.

Keith Burtis March 26, 2013 at 7:57 am

Hey Mack,
Great article and great ideas here but I’d like to challenge the data a bit. I think ad’s and content are getting a little jumbled here. I don’t think people “trust” ad’s but I do think they act on them. If a store puts out an ad for ‘Buy One get One’ people flock to the store. Why? Because they believe they are getting a good deal. Now on websites… what if I am buying a car? It is likely that the first website I am going to would be the manufacturer website to learn about the features of that specific model. Yep, I may scour the net for reviews as well, maybe check consumer reports but at the end of the day I never thought the manufactures website was lying to me. Lets look at blog content. I think many company websites are either writing sales letters, promotion announcements, distributing press releases and generally pimping themselves here. I would think consumers generally get bored before they distrust the content. Who wants to read that crap? One thing company blogs forget to ask is, “Who the hell cares?” Now lets look at a blog like The Cleanest Line from Patagonia. I love the outdoors and love to flyfish. I don’t come away from that blog feeling duped in any way. Even when they mention their products or have product photos I’m not thinking that gear must suck so I’ll head over to X brand.

Surveys – Part of the problem with general population surveys is that you get generalized answers from a generalized population and its really en vogue to say that you trust your friends over brands. Of course that would be true but further segmentation needs to be done to make the study applicable to a certain case. To me its a lot like saying there are X number of people on Facebook so your brand needs to be there too. You’re suggestions to involve the consumer are great and I agree with them generally but again it has to be case specific and meet the goals of the company first.

Mack Collier March 26, 2013 at 9:05 am

Hey Keith! I think the trust issue for a company’s ads comes into play when the company is talking about itself. IOW, we tend to distrust the company if they are making claims about itself, or maybe it would be more accurate to say we would trust a customer’s opinion of that brand over the brand’s claims about itself.

In the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ example, it works, and in this case we DO trust the company and believe that the company WILL offer a free product if we buy one. But I don’t think that ad’s effectiveness is a barometer for us trusting the brand, as a whole.

I’m glad you mentioned The Cleanest Line because that is one of my favorite examples of a company blog that creates customer-centric content. They promote their products, but they do so in the larger context of discussing the ideas and themes that are important to their customers. Such as the outdoors, sustainability, protecting the environment. Patagonia doesn’t use the blog to talk about themselves, they use it to talk about the themes that their customers are passionate about, so that makes it easier for their customers to trust them.

If anything, I would hope brands would take results such as these as an incentive to start becoming more closely connected to their customers, and make a greater effort to better understand them. That would greatly improve the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, which would also make the brand more trustworthy in the eyes of its customers.

Lauri Rottmayer March 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

This is a great post! I was the first customer to blog for PODS. I did two guest posts for them and it made me feel more connected and pretty special! :-)

Mack Collier March 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Good for PODS, Lauri, I wish more brands did this!

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