The Future (and eternal truth) of Marketing : ‘Trust’

9th March 2017

Article published on the Brand Learning blog – here


This is not one of those ‘crystal ball gazing’ kind of articles. Nor is it a compendium of mid or long term predictions. This piece is based on the universal ‘customer centric’ truth that consumers have, do, and will always ‘believe’ in brands that they feel able to rely on.

This article provides a perspective on the importance of trust in the world of marketing and the world in general. Why it is now, more important than it has ever been.

The trend away from trusting established institutions – such as politicians, banks, the media etc… has been ongoing for some time. The situation became exacerbated in 2016, as we described in What does post-truth mean for marketers?

A US report, commissioned by Edelman PR, recently observed that public trust in institutions has fallen to a record low.

“Media has been categorized as part of the elite, the new means of communication is horizontal, peer-to-peer. As a result, fake news or other sorts of stories get credence – ‘Pope Francis endorsing Trump’ for instance – and are more shared than mainstream news and that’s a real problem for the society.” Fittingly, the Edelman barometer calls 2017 the year of “Trust In Crisis.” This mirrors a major theme of this year’s World Economic Forum, in Davos.

The importance of trust in marketing has always been paramount and breaches in trust have a big impact on consumers’ perceptions of brands. We are familiar with recent breaches of trust – from car manufacturers and financial institutions to data breaches at Yahoo and Target.

Consumers, especially younger ones, have reacted to privacy issues by using ephemeral social channels such as Snapchat, blocking ads and using search engines that do not track data; the best known of these DuckDuckGo recently reached 10 billion searches. According to Mhairi McEwan’s summary of last year’s Festival Of Marketing, millennial consumers are living in a state of CPA – ‘Continuous Partial Attention’ often combined with an attitude to content, of ‘TLDR’ (Too Long Didn’t Read). Their influencers are more likely to be social media strangers, than they are brands. Brands are tapping into this, with successful Influencer marketing campaigns such as this famous one from Turkish Airlines, involving a selection of top Instagrammers.

The US Association of National Advertisers (ANA), voted for ‘transparency’ as word of the year in 2016. Advertisers, faced with stories of media agency payment misconduct and data reporting discrepancies in digital media, understandably want transparency themselves. According to the ANA ‘(transparency) is the single most important issue in marketing and has the greatest potential benefit in terms of improving marketing ROI.’ It is not just important to advertisers though – it is also important to their consumers. As one ANA member states, “Transparency affects everything we communicate in marketing, from our product formulations/labels to how we communicate in all channels to our internal culture.”

The relationship between brand and consumer, and the transparency with which it is conducted, risks being further confused by the growing influence of bots. ‘Choice architecture’ is changing with the rise of automation, robotics and AI. Bots will refine choices presented, and even make choices on behalf of consumers. Some argue that the intervention of bots will mean that matters of ethics, which are nuanced not binary decisions, will get side-lined. In reality this places even more responsibility on the brand to uphold ethics. Bots may ignore it in the moment of choice, but ultimately, any brand that cannot meet the requirement for transparent ethics, will risk a consumer backlash.

So, in an environment where trust has become even more essential in the persuasion process, it is essential marketers understand the changing landscape to maximise connection with their customer base. The central premise of a customer focused approach at an organisation, both within and without, is to understand how best to achieve this.

If you’d like to find out more about Brand Learning’s views on customer-centred leadership and customer-centred organisations, please do get in touch or explore our Views and Ideas.

Nick Hammond @digital_filter