6 Tips for Building Trust with Consumers

If you haven’t looked at Edelman’s Trust Barometer survey findings for 2011, here’s a summary of what I found most interesting and what it means for you, supplemented by related information from other sources. If there’s one key takeaway from this information mashup, it’s that:

Brands and companies need to develop clear messages, and then get internal and external “experts” to convey those positive messages. These experts need to be popular enough that their posts will be discoverable by consumers doing brand/product searches. Thus, building relationships with influencers has become even more important for brands/companies.

1. In terms of building a positive corporate reputation, only 55% of people cited “communicates frequently” as an important factor.  More important factors were quality of the company’s products and services, transparency and honesty, and trust in the company and its employees. 

Takeaway: You don’t need to talk non-stop to your customers. Focus instead on the message you’re conveying. Show how you work, and keep both your social and formal communications honest. With the ease of information sharing, product quality counts more than ever.  Companies should really think about how to make customer service more social and timely, to provide high quality of service to customers.

2. The word of experts and analysts is now considered far more important than that of “people like me” when it comes to brand reputation and, presumably, product recommendations. Those analysts can be people within or external to the company. Other studies have shown similar results, such as this one showing that friends, family, colleagues are least used for product information (14%). (However, note point #6.)

Takeaway: Brands need to cultivate and support internal experts and allow them to communicate regularly via social channels, blogs, etc. Remember point #1, though: keep it honest. Brands also need to focus on providing information to external experts and analysts who are influencers, as influencers continue to rise in importance.

3. The CEO’s word has also risen as one of the most important influencers.

Takeaway: When possible, get your CEO to engage on social channels, your blog, etc. Remember #1 and have the CEO provide the transparency and honesty that consumers value.

4. People need to hear something positive about a company 3-5 times (presumably from different sources) before they believe it. People will believe negative information about a company more quickly than positive–but less quickly if they currently have a positive image of the company. A recent study showed that people are more willing to share positive than negative information about a company/product, but note that women more likely than men to share positive brand experiences.

Takeaway: The investment to build a positive reputation offers benefits in the face of negative events. Companies need to define clear messages and find multiple places where their customers congregate to get those messages out, preferably via internal and external analysts/experts (#2 above). When feasible, add some extra focus on women, because they will share positive WOM more.

5. Search is the most important and widely-used method for finding information about a company (cited by 29%). This one is backed up by numerous other studies, related to consumers searching for products and services, including this March 2010 survey that found 90% of people use search when researching product/services in their local area; this one showing 3 out of 5 shoppers use search engines, and this one showing that 57% of consumers use search

Takeaway: Brands need to do what they can to make sure Search brings up the brand and corporate results desired–pointing users to the brand website and to external sources that provide positive messages. Based on #2, popular influencers with good search rankings are the best target.

6. Retailer and brand websites are important, though. A number of studies (social shopping, shopper intelligence) have shown that retailer emails and websites are used widely by consumers (usually accessed via Search).

Also, product/company reviews are important. While “people like me” may have dropped in Edelman’s Trust Barometer, other studies show shoppers take the time to read reviews. 64% take at least 10 minutes to read customer reviews. Importantly, people distrust a product/company if they can’t find any or enough reviews, with 50% saying a lack of reviews degrades trust. Forrester research suggests that consumers use product reviews mainly as confirmation before making their purchase. In other words, they’ve already decided on the product, but use reviews to verify that they have made a good decision.

Takeaway: While the focus may be on experts/analysts, consumers do look at the corporate website, so don’t neglect it. Also, it’s important to have a reasonable volume of easy to discover consumer reviews of products and services, so consumers can validate their impression of your product or service. Do what you can to foster consumer reviews at popular locations.

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