By Ben Zimmerman, president at Media Design Group.
Trust is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the marketing and advertising industry, and for good reason. However, now that we have bid farewell to one of the more tumultuous years in recent memory, buzzwords like “authenticity” and “trust” have never been more relevant.
From the ongoing global pandemic and prevailing economic crisis to the mass protests against systemic racism, human trust is at a boiling point. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report conducted between May and June of 2020, consumers want brands to be at the center of societal change. These days, issuing a statement or producing an ad doesn’t cut it. People want brands to serve as advocates for the issues that impact their lives.
In fact, 70% of survey respondents said trusting a brand is more important now than it has been in the past, and 85% of respondents want brands to solve their problems. This means serving as “a dependable provider and a reliable source of information.” Finally, 80% want brands to solve greater societal problems and be a positive force in shaping our culture.
Trust — or the lack thereof — of social media was scrutinized, as well. This summer, the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign saw high-profile brands like The North Face, Patagonia and Verizon suspending advertising spend on social platforms. Their goal? To push these brands to take more accountability on their platforms. While companies like Twitter and Snapchat took a stance against hate speech, it should be noted that Facebook was less vocal.
While some considered the movement fleeting, if anything, it’s only confirmed that consumer trust has reached a turning point. In May, Forrester released a report that illustrated consumers’ frustration and distrust of social media. “It’s OK to Break Up With Social Media” found consumers have the following opinions:
• 70% don’t trust social media platforms with their data.
• 34% think that social media does more harm than good in the U.S.
• 14% believe the information they find on social media is trustworthy.
Trust is now a deciding factor for many consumers.
So, what does this all mean? That the future of marketing may be rooted in trust. If the country’s shifting opinions on social media platforms are any indication, there will be more emphasis on data privacy. 70% of consumers say they use one or more advertising avoidance strategies. Whether that means using ad-blocking technology or finding ways to avoid almost all ads, consumers are looking for more meaningful ways to interact with your brand.
As we begin to witness the demise of third-party cookies — and consumers become increasingly educated on data tracking and targeting methods — marketers must adapt. Brands must work to get their message across. And they must work hard to earn consumer trust.
As Edelman suggests, earned media is where brands must compete for consumer attention. Here’s a quick primer on the differences between owned, paid and earned media. Owned media is any digital property you control, including your website, blog and social media channels. Many of these channels are extensions of your website. And as the name suggests, paid media is the content you pay to promote. From Google Ads to paid social media ads on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, paid campaigns can boost existing content and campaigns.
Compared to owned and paid media, earned media is any attention, publicity or mentions a brand receives. It’s unlike branded content in the sense that earned media may manifest itself as an online review or recommendation. While it can exist on social channels in the form of a retweet or a repost of an article or press release, earned media is inherently different than paid.
No longer as susceptible to bait-and-switch advertising tactics, consumers have never been wiser. Many consumers can see right through brands these days. And companies must now engage their consumers with authenticity. While it’s entirely possible to influence earned media — and nudge customers in the right direction — it must be done with tact.
According to the aforementioned Forrester report, companies may need to chill for a bit on social media. It’s not worth creating content for content’s sake. And it may be time to reassess how you run paid ads. Instead, it’s more productive to gather insights by listening to your customers. Of course, this can be done through channels like social — but it can also manifest itself across earned channels like ratings, reviews and user-generated content.
I’m not saying paid digital advertising is going anywhere anytime soon. But brands should reconsider how they push messages out. Building trust boils down to taking ownership of your actions. While it’s important for brands to take a stand, it’s equally essential that they practice what they preach. Paying lip service to hot topics is only part of the equation. It’s important to stick true to your values and focus on building meaningful connections with your consumers.