As customer experience and marketing leaders, we’ve been told to put the customer first, and we all know that is what we should be doing. We even feel a certain moral obligation to put our customers’ needs and wants ahead of our own. However, a recent study by Nielsen found that consumers do not trust our marketing messages. In fact, they trust peer rеvіеwѕ and earned mеdіа much more than the owned mеdіа аnd advertisements marketers work so hard to put in front of them. This is more pronounced among younger consumers with just 1 percent of Millennials reporting that they’re influenced by advertising. To truly understand where consumers are coming from and exceed their expectations, marketers must ask themselves these questions —
Why is Trust Important?
On a practical level, we want our customers to respond and engage with our brand communications. But, if a customer doesn’t trust our company, they will not be receptive to our marketing efforts regardless of how beneficial or relevant our products or services may be for them.
Customers have set expectations for the brands they shop with, from the quality of a product or service to the communications they receive to the brand’s business practices. When expectations aren’t met and consumer trust is violated, it throws off our relationship with our entire customer base and jeopardizes our primary mission to meet their needs with our products and services.
With customers relying so heavily on peer reviews and earned media, a rupture in customer trust can expose our brands to damaging public attention and threaten our bottom lines in very real ways.
As Marketers, How Do We Create Trust?
What we must do, both in our companies and as an industry overall, is earn the trust of our customers. And that will require a to change in mindset from profit-oriented to service-oriented. Writer Marianne Williamson said it best: to transform, we must “shift from of a sales mentality to a service mentality.”
When we focus on serving our customers’ needs as best we can, we have a chance at creating meaningful connections that will build trust. Trust comes naturally when our customers experience a connection to our company. This will require our company to be transparent, honest and authentic with our customers.
Because customers are wary of our intentions, we must forge connections with them that are deep and meaningful if we want to create trust. One way to foster a meaningful connection is to give customers visibility into the humanity behind your brand. But to execute this in marketing is a delicate art. We must recognize the customer’s humanity, and demonstrate that we care about their needs, wants and viewpoints. The brand Always exemplified this well with their “#LikeAGirl” Campaign, which worked to create connections with their consumers. The campaign’s message hit home with people around the world.
To create trust, you must be willing to communicate the actual values of your company to customers. Actual values are the standards your company demonstrates in its actions and choices, not necessarily the “core values” painted on the walls of your corporate headquarters. This includes being honest about our profit-motives.
At a minimum, we must not hide our actual values behind marketing messages intended to coerce customers or mimic altruistic values. If we are not willing to be held to those standards, or if we behave in ways that are morally unacceptable, it is better that we market in a simpler yet more authentic way.
If we are willing to consistently communicate our actual values to our customers, we will prove to them there is nothing to hide.
The bottom line here is: be true to your company’s values and don’t pretend to be more customer-centric or altruistic than you are. If we are in business to grow –and only in business to grow– we should have the courage, to be honest about it.
The airline industry gives us two great models of authenticity, one profit-centered and one customer-centered, both of which work. Spirit Airlines is a low cost, penny-pinching no-frills airline and consumers know what to expect. They may not like Spirit Airlines, but they understand it as the company’s value proposition: the lowest cost option.
On the other side of the aisle is Southwest Airlines, which is obsessed with satisfying each individual’s customer journey. Neither marketing approach is “better” than the other, but they are both authentic. Both approaches have the potential to build meaningful connections to customers and therefore build trust.
Customers don’t trust our marketing messages, and they have good reason to be wary. We are, after all human, just like them. We should do a better job of building trust. It will help us in the long run. We can start by creating genuine connections to our customers and being authentic about our motives.
At the end of the day, our brands are defined by the interactions people have with them. Despite the perception we work to create through our campaigns, customers learn about our product or service prior in ways beyond directly engaging with us.
Based on their experiences, customers will use our products, connect with others and amplify their opinions by word-of-mouth and on social media, and for better or worse, their perceptions become our actual brand image. Forming a real human connection with our customers can help us build our business on a solid foundation of trust.