Distrust in marketing is an alarming trend among the very people that we need to trust us.
The public’s wariness about the practices of the marketing profession goes hand-in-glove with a general distrust of traditional institutions. And the phrase ‘business ethics’ is understood as an oxymoron like ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘unbiased opinion.’
Most of us (especially marketers) have a growing skepticism about advertising and marketing for several reasons:
- We have personally been misled or burned by an unethical marketer;
- We know someone whose trust has been abused;
- We, and most of our fellow consumers, have had a peek behind the curtain and understand what marketers are trying to do and how they do it;
- We are inundated with messages trying to convince us to purchase something we don’t need or want;
- We see well-publicized cases of companies abusing the trust of their customers/clients (Wells Fargo, Cambridge Analytica, et al.) and assume this is common behavior that only rarely sees such public exposure;
- We know that by being beholden to quarterly earnings statements and price-to-earnings ratios, corporations have been known to push ethics aside in favor of deceptive marketing practices that produce the desired financial results.
How has marketing adapted to counter this trust erosion?
Here are some ways marketers are trying to change in response to this era of mistrust. Perhaps some of them could work for you. (Full disclosure, even the approaches below have been misused by unethical marketers to win trust from unsuspecting customers.)
- Influencer marketing. Brands find celebrities, people with large social media followings, or accepted industry experts who are willing to endorse their products. Influencer marketing has become a large marketing sub-specialty with influencer agencies connecting brands to endorsers and assisting with content development.
- Storytelling. Telling stories allows you to share the underlying meaning and purpose behind the product or service and shines a light on the values of the people who form the company–of course, everything is now a story. I can’t even find an online recipe without eight paragraphs on how the writer created or modified the dish based on personal experiences or travels to far-off lands.
- User reviews. Crowd-sourced product reviews are a good way to build trust in an unknown brand or product. The positive opinions of satisfied users give insight into how the product is used to meet needs or solve problems. This, too, has been abused by unscrupulous advertisers who pay for the generation of fake reviews. Companies like Amazon have built strict verification systems to make sure that reviews are coming from legitimate users.
- Money back guarantees. One way to overcome a lack of trust is to let your customers opt out and get a full refund if the product does not meet their expectations. This shows you have a high confidence that your product will meet your customers’ expectations.
- No-risk trial periods. Another popular trust-building strategy is to offer a no-cost trial period. This works best for software or apps since it is easy to set a time limitation. A ‘freemium’ model is a similar strategy where you offer a free, but limited functionality, version of your product. If the user likes the experience you make it easy to upgrade to a full-featured version.
- Up-front support policies and warranty statements. Explain how you support your customers post-sale. What is your return policy? what happens if there is a problem? Will you be there to help?
- Trusted brand endorsements. Companies have used this strategy for years to help legitimatize products that are not well known. You identify the prominent customers who are already using the product as an implied endorsement. This generally means posting logos of known brands on the website and collateral.
- Case histories and testimonials. Combining brand endorsements and storytelling, case histories generally use a problem-solution framework to show how the product or service was an ideal fit for the situation. The reader can see herself in the scenario and will find affinity with the problem statement. Testimonials are often shorter than case histories but feature a decision maker at the customer company who gives the reasons he likes your product product along with some superlatives about its characteristics.
- Building meaningful relationships with potential customers. This means a commitment to be trustworthy throughout the customer engagement process. You need to think about how your messages are constructed — is your tone and content authentic? Avoid making dubious claims. Personalize your communications. This requires that every customer-facing person in your organization demonstrates trustworthiness, from marketing and sales to service, support, shipping and administration.
What does this mean for you?
- Are your marketing programs honest and above board? Are you being authentic with your claims and comparisons?;
- Do you truly believe in your product or service and its value to customers, or are you a slave to the monthly sales numbers?;
- Are the values of your company in sync with your own values?
I have been fortunate in my career to be associated with many companies that were truly passionate about the value of their products and services; companies who believed in finding customers that could truly benefit from working with us.
Often, as a marketer, you will encounter competitors who are not trustworthy; who use less than honest strategies to acquire and lock-in customers. Some of the above-listed strategies may help you compete. Don’t be afraid to highlight negative industry practices as a way to highlight the difference of working with your company.
Be sincere, and trust your customers/clients and they will respond in kind.