Brand trust in the social age: why paying consumers to like you will kill your business
Life revolves around trust. Trust binds friendships together. Trust lets you gets things done at work. Trust defines what you do, try and buy. Brand owners know this and for years have been trying every trick in the book to gain the trust of consumers. The arrival of social media has seen some brands try to buy that trust (or likes, followers, or even Pins) – they are missing the point. You can’t buy people’s trust, you have to earn it.
Fifty years ago, Mad Men gave brands a style that you aspired to. The expression ‘brand promise’ arose to define the trust between a company and consumers. Cigarette firms used doctors to endorse their product. The age of celebrity saw brands jump on the coattails of well-known personalities to share in their reflected trust.
But life has changed. People trust less. The average consumer is both cynical and incredibly brand savvy, and they don’t trust anyone.
The digital age posed both opportunities and challenges to brands when trying to build trust. The amount of noise has increased almost exponentially. Consumer trust in traditional forms of marketing have fallen sharply – in large part due to the increase in alternative ways to get information on brands. Consumer confidence in paid television, magazine and newspaper ads declined by 24 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent respectively since 2009 (Nielsen, 2012).
At the same time the internet, and more recently social media, have opened the way for consumers to follow the people they do trust – their friends – and it’s changing the way brands need to think and work
Social channels enable brands to create one-to-one dialogues with consumers. Ads can be highly targeted to individuals on Facebook, community managers can tweet customers who have asked a question about a product. Those who get social right can build stronger relationships with customers than they’ve ever had. Dell have been noted for using twitter for effective customer care, enhancing their image of reliability. Those who get it wrong can jeopardise trust built up over years. Dr Pepper learnt that the hard way a while back when they allowed an agency to take over fans’ Facebook pages in return for the chance to win £1000. The campaign backfired and did more harm than good for the Dr Pepper brand.
The emergence of digital has also made it easier to buy (and sell) social ‘trust’ – but this raises a huge issue for those who would do the buying and selling. It raises the obvious question – what is the trust worth of someone who’s prepared to sell it?
The devaluation of the Facebook ‘Like’
In a previous blog I wrote about the devaluation of the Facebook ‘Like’ as many brands use various crude methods to amass the latest vanity metric of success. This is just one example of how easy it has become to buy ‘trust’ in the social era. Just like brands whose ads appeared on TV and in trusted magazines, now consumers see that their friends have ‘Liked’ a brand and would be lead to believe that that friend is therefore endorsing the brand.
What they can’t tell is that the friend actually Liked the brand’s page in order to enter a draw to win the new iPad, or to get exclusive access to content from their favourite band. The ability for brands to sponsor Likes means that brands can now build trust by purchasing ‘endorsements’ from consumers and then advertising that endorsement to friends. The same happens on Twitter (where tweeters are incentivised to follow or RT) and review sites (where customers are encouraged to write positive reviews in return for discounts). Many brands are simply trying to turn a great opportunity for earned media into a paid media channel. The problem is that by manipulating the system, they are undermining its worth.
The key for brands who want to build trust in the right way is to worry less about manipulating vanity metrics and more to engaging in real word-of mouth. Nielsen’s recent study found that the most trusted source of ‘advertising’ was word-of-mouth; recommendations from friends. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends.
Word-of-mouth is going to become more efficient. We already think its incredibly powerful, but think of all the recommendations you’ve forgotten of books or hotels or gadgets or restaurants you were been by your friends over a drink or a meal. Social media is going to transform the efficiency of word-of-mouth. You forget them all.
I’m putting my money where my mouth is. After years of working for the managing huge brands like Virgin and Orange, I’ve launched my own business LoveThis, precisely to help consumers share their recommendations with their friends.
The integration of social networks, email and mobile allows us to instantaneously share recommendations with the people who trust us. Already we can see waves of recommendations moving across our user base, and these are not the brands who spend the most on marketing – they are the ones who invest in user experience or go the extra mile or whom simply have a better product than anything else.
Now there’s a radical thought.
Alexis Dormandy us Founder and CEO of Love This.