Why You Should Double Down on Trust Marketing in the ‘Fake News’ Era

Brands face one of their greatest challenges to date

Consumers are especially skeptical nowadays.
Sources: Getty Images

This is the age of distrust. Fake news infiltrates the media daily. It inundates social media feeds and tempts with the most appealing of clickbait headlines. For marketing’s underbelly, it has been a gold mine, but it has come at the cost of trust and consumer confidence.

Peter Muhlmann

Never before has the general public been so skeptical of absolutely everything, let alone marketing and advertising. Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer reported the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media took a nosedive and fell to all-time lows in 17 countries. Businesses, from faith in the brand to trust in executive leadership, didn’t fare much better.

For younger generations, Millennials in particular, this is hardly surprising. Research and analysis has for years pointed to a lack of trust for advertising and corporate America, with some data suggesting that upwards of 85 percent of younger populations just aren’t buying it. What is surprising is the speed in which Gen-Xers and even Boomers are forming similar sentiments.

And so in an era of fake news, high skepticism and low confidence, marketers face perhaps one of their greatest challenges to date: believability.

Fortunately, consumers have, in a way, offered their own solution. As consumer trust decreases, reliance on people increases. More specifically, reliance on the opinions of peers. According to Edelman’s research, a person like yourself is just as credible for information as academics or experts about a company or brand. Half of all adults are now routinely checking online reviews before making a purchasing decision, according to Pew Research Center. ReportLinker said that 78 percent of people who read online reviews find them reliable.

"Responding publicly to those who have had a negative experience with the brand is like winning the marketing lottery in the age of distrust."

For marketers, this signals a shift in how dollars should be spent. It’s time to double down on pre-existing customers, as their voices, opinions and beliefs now say much more about a brand than traditional advertising or marketing can. Social media offers the most obvious platform for this kind of marketing, but other forms of social-in-nature content are beginning to take off as well.

For those that have already started down this path, customer review platforms have been checking off all of the right boxes. Brands that utilize a quality customer review tool and proactively seek the feedback of their existing customers are showing results across a wide scope of tangible metrics.

For one, some third-party review tools (they come in many shapes and sizes) have licensing partnerships with Google, making them Google Review Partners. Reviews collected with these platforms can help brands gain Google Seller Ratings, which have been shown to increase the average clickthrough rate for ads by as much as 17 percent. There is also significant SEO and traffic value businesses can attain by collecting reviews.

On the less analytical side, brands that regularly engage with their customers directly through social media, forums, message boards and review platforms end up with a built-in marketing team made up of their own customers. The reviews and feedback consumers leave not only generate brand loyalty but also provide potential customers—those who don’t quite trust traditional marketing methods—with the push they need when a purchasing decision needs to be made.

Another critical way to build trust may seem simple but is all too often forgotten. Responding publicly to those who have had a negative experience with the brand is like winning the marketing lottery in the age of distrust. Research shows increasing customer retention by just 5 percent can lead to a 25 percent to 95 percent increase in company profits. Engaging with customers demonstrates trust and transparency to anyone else looking on.

Regardless of the platform or medium, it’s now more important than ever for marketers and advertisers to invest in trust marketing. The data is concrete and suggests that without a game plan, traditional marketing dollars will start to fall short if they haven’t already.

It’s hard to say when consumer confidence will be restored to its normal levels; sins of the past may make that nearly impossible. But like it or not, distrust is now ubiquitous. Fake news is now part of the world we live in. Each and every time it’s disseminated, brand trust takes another gut punch—and so do today’s marketers.

 Peter Mühlmann (@peter_muhlmannis the founder and CEO of Trustpilot, a global online review community with 30 million reviews of 160,000 businesses.