5 Ways Brands Can Surrender Control to Connect With Users

It’s time to confront those trust issues

Driving relevance means driving growth. Join global brands and industry thought leaders at Brandweek, Sept. 11–14 in Miami, for actionable takeaways to better your marketing. 50% off passes ends April 10.

Society is more divided than ever, but there’s one thing we all agree on: We have trust issues.

Average Americans don’t even trust their own neighbor. Globally, two-thirds of consumers believe humans are less trustworthy than ever before.

If we don’t trust our neighbors, then we certainly don’t trust brands. A Havas-conducted survey found that only 22% of brands are trusted by consumers. Social media isn’t immune, either. Brands are boycotting Facebook, TikTok has privacy issues and Twitter is dealing with hacks.

Despite these realities, the pandemic is shifting culture to reveal an ownable white space for brands to nurture consumer trust. The time is now to deepen your bond with new and existing consumers.

Embrace a values-based economy

Today’s consumers are more defined by likes than location. Instead of segmenting broad demographics, take a values-based segmentation approach.

Many consumers think values and ethics are pivotal for building brand trust, yet brands still avoid communicating their values. Embracing values doesn’t mean embracing issue-charged activism; it’s authentically showcasing core values in both actions and advertising.

For example, when Covid-19 made customer service and government assistance challenging, Zappos created a value-based campaign called “Customer Service for Anything.” Ads enforced Zappos’ value of helpfulness by saying: “Stuck in the middle of a project? We’re here to lend an ear and help you make your next step forward.”

Instead of focusing on a lack of polish, lean into your brand’s newfound vulnerability.

Thriving in a values-based economy doesn’t mean being divisive. It means working with like-minded individuals toward shared goals, which can range from cleanliness to fighting for equality.

Find and commit to your community of trust 

Society is an interlocking maze of communities of trust. In tumultuous times, we are dependent on them because they share our beliefs and reflect our identities.

Brands can find their own communities of trust without restricting themselves to just one. To authentically belong to multiple social circles, you have to commit.

Commitment through actions, finances or resources will transform communities of trust into brand advocates. But you can’t fake it. Social media engagement has increased by 61%, and users are more adept at detecting nonsense. Prove to your fan base that you deserve to be part of their inner circle; they’ll become a brand advocacy group that spreads your praise like wildfire.

Take me to your leader

Authentically engage your fan base by committing to influencers that mirror your values. Influencers are the leaders of value-based communities, making them the perfect proxy to engage multiple users.

Influencers are seasoned early adopters with built-in trust. Influencer partnerships encourage communities to engage with your brand, simultaneously earning media and trust. In fact, 71% of consumers are more likely to make purchases based on social media referrals than traditional advertising, providing solid bedrock for the path to purchase.

Know your users’ trust language

For establishing trust, experts agree that video is best. It taps into all the little tricks humans employ to express and decode trustworthiness. Audio, imagery and text follow closely behind.

Although mediums remain static, trust languages vary. For example, 61% of Americans believe that how a company treats its employees is important, but this metric is even more important for the 14 million Americans who recently lost their jobs. Younger consumers may prioritize an activist trust language, recently demonstrated by Ben & Jerry’s viral social post on “dismantling white supremacy,” which garnered roughly 21 times more likes than its average posts.

Mattel also did a great job of identifying “acts of service” as the ultimate trust language for mothers whose working hours have risen by roughly 40% since March.

Identify and embrace what topics matter most to your community by monitoring engagement, comments, likes and clickthroughs. They’ll tell you what resonates the most if you’re willing to open your eyes and ears.

Give trust to get it

Vulnerability is the ultimate trust language. We naturally trust people who let their shields down.

While carefully selecting our words is sometimes necessary, research shows it can actually diminish trust in brands or people that are more guarded and circumspect. Zara, for example, leveraged this insight and shipped its seasonal looks to models who photographed themselves around their own homes, a move that required a lot of trust and was praised by press and fans.

Zara is only one example, but we’re all aware that today’s production challenges are real. Instead of focusing on a lack of polish, lean into your brand’s newfound vulnerability. Most Gen Z and millennial consumers are fatigued by polished images in advertising and prefer when content from brands isn’t perfect.

Ad performance confirms this. A recent YouTube/Google seminar showed scrappy productions performed as strongly or better than many traditional ads. Oreo took this idea even further and trusted its community to create its campaign, turning smartphone videos into TV commercials.

Surrendering brand ownership can be risky, but consumers will back brands that believe trust is a two-way street.

Adweek magazine cover
Click for more from this issue

This story first appeared in the Aug. 31, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.