Fake news. Clickbait. Sensationalism and misinformation. Americans are experiencing a plague of untrustworthy content, and content marketing isn’t immune to the disease.
These days, people are confused, skeptical, frustrated, and wary about the content they consume online and via social media. Thanks to a constellation of forces—including rising distrust in government, business, media, and NGOs—the trajectory of online trust could get worse before it gets better.
In this distrustful environment, brands suffer, too. About 42 percent of Americans believe that brands and companies are less truthful today than they were twenty years ago, according to a study from McCann’s Truth Central unit discussed in Ad Age. Earning back that trust will be increasingly difficult.
Brands need to be able to tell a strong, clear, authentic message to shape how consumers perceive them. In a post-truth world, the challenge is figuring out how.
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries dubbed “post-truth” as the Word of the Year, an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
While often used in reference to politics, the post-truth concept has meaning for marketers. Indeed, some post-truth phenomena can be blamed on marketers themselves, many of whom have used clickbait and other sensationalistic techniques to try to lure eyeballs. Appealing to our curiosity and emotional impulses may have worked, but the ploy backfired. The influx of fake content bred consumer distrust, making it harder for brands with legitimate content to break through the noise.
Today, online distrust among Americans runs deep. Research shows that a significant percentage of Americans are wary and skeptical of any information they find online. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of adults are “relatively disengaged and not very enthusiastic about information.” Pew found that 24 percent of people are “doubtful” and 25 percent are “wary” when it comes to information sources, particularly local and national news. Another 13 percent are “cautious and curious,” expressing a lot of interest in news and information but not much trust in sources of news and information.
Social media has been particularly hard-hit in the fake news era. Only 3 percent of people said they trust information on social media “a lot,” putting the category dead last in terms of trustworthiness behind the government, news organizations, and financial institutions. Considering how many marketers rely on social media to share content, that’s a problem.
Even tech experts are conflicted about the future of online trust. In another study, Pew found that 24 percent of technologists, scholars, practitioners, and experts surveyed predict online trust is going to get worse. Online security—or lack thereof—and the looming possibility of more data breeches are additional factors that fuel, not diminish, the issue of online distrust. Better media literacy may help consumers combat the fake news scourge, but it can only do so much to bridge the online trust gap.
For marketers, these trends signal that building consumer trust is more important than ever.
Content marketing can help brands position themselves as the industry expert, a respected voice in the conversation, a thought leader, or a trusted partner. Several tactics can help nurture a trusting relationship with your audience.
For starters, lean in on a classic and effective marketing tool: word-of-mouth marketing. In a post-truth environment, getting people to talk about your brand—in real life and on social media—helps brands earn trust. When someone you trust posts about a product they love, you’re more likely to trust the brand, too.
Ovia, a fertility app, is a perfect example. If you have new parents among your circle of online friends, chances are you’ve seen the hashtag #Oviababy next to an Instagram pic of an adorable little one. That’s because new parents are giving a shoutout to the app for helping them conceive, thus spreading the word about a brand they trust and endorse. When a friend sees that simple hashtag, she’s more likely to perceive the brand as trustworthy and credible, too.
Another key to unlocking customer trust is simply focusing on the customer. What problems can your brand help your customers solve? What information gaps does your audience have that you can fill? What worries keep your customers up at night? Offering genuine answers to those questions—even if they don’t always coincide with a sales pitch—can lay the foundation for trust. Purina, for example, is the most trusted cat and dog food brand in America, according to a BrandSpark International study. It’s no surprise that Purina’s recent content marketing campaigns have focused heavily on research and expertise to produce informative, educational content. For example, its Puppyhood microsite focuses on giving dog owners the tools they need to care for their beloved pooch; articles cover topics like “How to stop puppies from biting” and “How to teach puppy to fetch.”
More recently, the brand has offered content via Amazon’s voice service, Alexa. People can use Alexa to get information about different dog breeds by saying phrases like “tell me about dogs that are good with children,” or “find breeds that are good in apartments.” By delivering useful, relevant content in a variety of contexts, Purina shows it’s more than your average pet food vendor—it’s an expert in the industry.
That said, marketers shouldn’t forget to focus on the product or service itself. If your product has an amazing feature, that unique quality can drive conversation. The explosive growth of Yeti coolers proves the point. The company’s $300-and-up coolers are “grizzly proof”—an actual certification from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Their built-to-last construction and popularity among hunters and fisherman has earned the brand credibility and cachet, while fueling $450 million in sales, according to Inc.
In keeping with its rugged product story, the company has produced a number of video stories showing tough-as-nails outdoors enthusiasts in their element, with brief shots of Yeti products unobtrusively included. The videos help authentically demonstrate that Yeti isn’t just a regular cooler; it’s a trusted brand for those who seek adventure.
Building consumer trust won’t happen in a day. Trust-building requires a slow drip of quality, consistent content over the long run, which steadily grows the brand’s expert reputation. Eliciting consumer trust isn’t easy in an era of online distrust. But through the clever use of content, brands can nurture a trust that lasts.
For more stories like this, subscribe to the Content Standard newsletter.
Featured image attribution: Toa Heftiba