6 Ways Your New Brand Can Build Trust in an Age of Cynical Consumers
By Alexander Jacobs
As you leave the team meeting—your colleagues noticeably frazzled about the looming deadline—your eyes stray to that dull hallway carpeting and you stop. It hits you: how’re we going to get customers to actually trust our new brand?
It’s never been harder for marketers to win consumer trust. Data breaches, privacy invasions, falsified results, and misleading reviews all weigh heavily on consumers' minds. Recent research backs this up, showing that nearly 70% of respondents were suspicious of ads or sponsored social media content. Another informal poll concludes that only 31% of U.S. respondents trusted the business sector. Today’s consumers are more informed—and skeptical—than ever.
With the costs of marketing growing more expensive by the day, you also know that you can’t afford to drop the ball on your brand or product launch. You’re going to need a plan, even if you’re thinking you’d rather melt into that grey carpet and hide among the coffee stains. What can you do? Though it won’t happen overnight, your brand will thrive if you commit to a clear and consistent process outlined below.
1. Start From the Inside Out with a Brand Book
For any new product, brand, or service to succeed, everyone in your organization must own it. Carol Neiger, president of the strategic marketing and design firm NeigerDesign, believes that branding must be “highly participatory and interactive.” For Neiger, the best results come when organizations empower employees as “citizen branders, responsible for contributing creativity, insight and enthusiasm to the development of the brand.”
The most successful brands rely on research with contributions from both internal and external stakeholders. The research not only informs your new brand, but it also rallies your internal stakeholders as they see their input actually contributed to the new brand. This stakeholder ownership is made visible when you integrate their comments from the research into both a brand standards guide and a thoughtful brand book. Both documents serve different and essential functions. While a standards guide outlines the technical requirements to keep your brand visually consistent across media and channels, a brand book is a key piece of internal marketing. It introduces your new brand to your organization and educates employees to make them strong brand ambassadors. A smart brand book (like this one for the International Facility Management Association (IFMA)) not only guarantees that you understand your brand voice before it reaches market, but that your team understands and owns it too—helping you avoid costly revisions and attract more customers.
2. Customize Every Touchpoint
British brand guru Wally Olins once said that successful brands sustain trust by “delivering on promises.” You are not just providing a product or service—you’re projecting a consistent voice and experience that costumers will grow to rely upon. To do this, you need to know how customers are finding you. By mapping a customer journey, you can ensure that each touchpoint appropriately delivers.
Start by making a spreadsheet of these touchpoints divided into three columns: before purchase, during purchase, after purchase. Depending on the brand and the market, customers might find you through Google, by texting their plumber, or by exploring an ad in a supermarket aisle. Once they’re aware, will they learn about you through print media or by visiting your website? How clear are your landing pages? What does the purchase process look like? Each touchpoint must deliver a consistent and appropriate brand experience. If customers, after hearing about you from a friend, visit your website and find it frustrating they’ll walk away. It doesn’t matter if your first touchpoint is flawless if the second one drops the ball. Every touchpoint is your last moment to prove that your brand can and should be trusted.
3. Help Your Audience Find You with Inbound Marketing
You’ve used rigorous web analytics to devise a brilliant customer’s journey. But your customers are real people with often-mysterious motivations. That’s why inbound content marketing strategies are 3x more effective and 62% cheaper than traditional outbound advertising. Not all content is equal though. Focused, quality content draws motivated audiences to you.
Back to the all-important research again! Conducting focus groups and qualitative interviews can give soul to your data. With a vibrant sense of your audience and market niche, you can focus on crafting quality inbound content like blog posts, social media stories, and sponsored articles. Denae DiVincenzo, marketing strategist at NeigerDesign, advocates for “focusing on a small selection of larger topics that are meaningful to your business and audience.” By positioning your brand as a thought leader on a specific topic area, you can build trust with interested consumers while optimizing your content for search engines—and gain valuable internet real estate in the process.
4. Recruit the Experts Your Audience Respects
Now that you’ve crafted a brilliant plan for expert inbound content, you may benefit from some actual experts. Remember how customers are savvier than ever? By starting in-house and then reaching out to strong independent authorities, you can best communicate your brand’s legitimacy to consumers.
Chances are you already know a few experts: the ones that designed your product or support your organization. Branding specialist Shama Hyder suggests interviewing these in-house subject matter researchers for your podcast, blog, or social accounts. Produce a short Q+A, or, better still, conscript one of your researchers to guest-write an article for your blog.
To be most successful, recruit respected independent experts for feedback. As Hyder explains, collaborating with an unbiased expert “builds your credibility because you’re demonstrating that you aren’t just pushing your message out.” Instead, you will be “expanding the resources that your customer, by engaging with you, has available.” Transparency and integrity are crucial here. Cynical customers will be wary of misleading claims and dubious sources.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to consider launching a pilot program first. That’s what the NeigerDesign team did when launching Tessera, a new Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) assessment tool for primary schools. The pilot allowed the research team to perfect the product, while design and marketing could gather valuable qualitative information through user polls and interviews. NeigerDesign then approached schools that had used Tessera and gathered key testimonials they could later strategically use for marketing.
5. Be Authentic, and Do Good
Transparency and integrity really are crucial. As digital marketing authority Ann Hadley stresses in Everybody Writes, “what matters now isn’t storytelling; what matters is telling a true story well.” Customers crave compelling and true stories as much as they loathe insincere or manipulative advertising strategies.
The most trusted brands and successful organizations rarely game the system. It’s easy to exaggerate or dazzle; it’s much harder to tell true stories about your brand in charming or compelling ways. This is why inbound marketing is such a powerful approach. Through inbound content, you encourage consumers to choose you. The more interesting, relevant, and well crafted your content, the easier it will be to turn readers into consumers. This is why it pays to do good. 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. Remember step 3: make sure that however you do good, you’re doing it in a way that’s consistent with your focused brand mission and messaging.
6. Ask For Help
Branding takes time. It’s a relationship. And like any good relationship, it’s built on familiarity, interaction, and transparent communication—with your customers and within your organization.
Just like in step 1, keep tabs by scheduling regular check-ins with team members from across the organization. As the troops in the trenches, your employees often possess a wealth of feedback and stories about your brand. Maybe Larry in accounting has a few brilliant anecdotes you could feature in your inbound content? Ultimately, by communicating regularly with your organization, you can motivate colleagues to become brand champions.
Lastly, it’s okay to be afraid of branding. Carol Neiger puts it simply: “if it feels a bit scary that is actually a good thing.” That means your brand is growing. Trust yourself first and then follow this process. Take your frazzled colleagues by the shoulders and point them down the hall. It’s time to include everyone on your new brand strategy. Now you know where to start.
Note: This post originally appeared on AMA.org.
Alexander Jacobs is a Chicago-based editor and strategist. He loves turning difficult problems into vibrant stories. Alex holds a BA from Stanford University, and a PhD in English from the University of Chicago. Learn more about him here.