Can values-based marketing rescue the loss of trust in business?

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The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer recorded the lowest ever trust in business, government, media and NGOs in the history of the survey. This presents a challenge to the marketing strategy of all businesses, because marketing to sell in the absence of trust only makes the scepticism grow.

The trend of trust is down

The 2017 Barometer not only revealed the largest-ever drop in trust across the four institutions of government, business, media and NGOs but it continued a long-term downward trend. Trust in media (43%) fell “precipitously” to all-time lows in 17 countries, while trust levels in government (41%) dropped in 14 markets and is the least trusted institution in half of the 28 countries surveyed. Not to mention that the survey was completed before the Trump phenomenon and Brexit each of which seem to have spurred even less trust.

CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37%, plummeting in every country studied, while government leaders (29%) remain least credible.

Although trust has dropped for all four institutions, business is the only one that is viewed as being able to make a difference. Yet business itself is on the brink of distrust especially over such issues as globalisation and automation. The most challenging issue for business is that experts and leaders are no longer trusted. A “person like yourself” (60%) is now just as credible a source of information about a company as is a technical (60%) or academic (60%) expert, and far more credible than a CEO (37%) and government official (29%).

Effective marketing has to de developed in this context

In order to be at all effective, a marketing strategy has to be reviewed and redeveloped in this context of ever-diminishing trust in business and experts. In fact to not do so, to ignore the context of the mood, will further erode trust in brands and their companies. The good news is that small companies have a disproportionate advantage in being able to harmonise into the reality of distrust and to come out far ahead of less agile businesses. This is a fantastic opportunity.

The means to do this is via a focus on content marketing which is intensely values-based, authentic and from the people who are most trusted.

Consider the opposite. It’s not news that creating resonance and “showing we’re human” and serving up “aspirational” advertising is part of the corporate advertising playbook of content marketing. But does Telstra truly believe that aspirational advertising works when the reality is that their NPS performance is failing, the network becoming more unreliable than ever, and their value for money widely regarded as being poor compared to say Vodafone? Trust is not served by BS.

How about the banks? Same aspirational approach while just last week a nationwide survey reported that a whopping 64-percent of respondents supported a royal commission into the banks despite only 53-percent supporting the ALP when it comes to casting their votes.

Aspirational and value-based advertising is very questionable effectiveness, if not regressive, in the absence of the fundamental brand hygiene factor of trust.

Values-based content is small business’s greatest competitive weapon

Values-based marketing is all about appealing to a customer’s values and ethics, and is doubly powerful coming from “a person like yourself”. This gives small business a huge advantage over large monolith businesses where all communication is polished and subject to multi-tiered approval processes. The latter has the authenticity rubbed off it as it passes through the process. Fundamentally people don’t relate to the values or ethics of what a business says it stands for in the corporate lobby, they relate to what the people of the business actually do.

The process, for small business to win, is to establish a content marketing strategy framed around the following four goals:

  1. To establish resonance
  2. To reduce resistance
  3. To build trust
  4. To communicate perceived value.

The steps overlap. Without resonance resistance will remain high. Building trust helps create perceived value. Trust cannot be maintained if value is not perceived.

The effectiveness of all of these steps is vastly enhanced when the right people and the right customers communicate the right messages to the right buyer personas. But that’s another blog post.

The simple point is this – getting this right can come naturally to small businesses with real people willing to do the best for their customers and act ethically and transparently.

Just to digest that previous sentence can send shivers up the spine of a large company – and therein lies the opportunity. Think of Society One versus the banks.

Who is doing this well?

Take a look at the Australian small business Second to None Nutrition, a small workout supplement store in North Queensland. By being there for their customers they have built up over 18k followers on Instagram and nearly 600,000 Likes on Facebook! Or Black Milk who have built up a massive community where girls come together from all over the world in the spirit of the company.

By coincidence a similar supplements business in the US is also a superb example of trust-based content marketing. 1st Phorm has 460,000 Likes on Facebook and about 14,000 each on Twitter and Youtube. But don’t worry about the numbers, take 3 1/2 minutes and watch this video by the Founder Andy Frisella (scroll down or go direct here). Then take a full minute to consider how his own personal Instagram following of nearly 600,000 combines with the hashtag they “own” #iam1stphorm and their Most Valuable Legionnaire programme for advocates –  this stuff did not just happen by accident. It is a superbly value-based marketing focus which constantly reinforces the ethics of the company and its people. That–builds–trust!

The global decline in trust of business spells headache for big businesses who struggle to confront the reality let alone address the reality with anything other than puerile “creativity”. At the same time it presents a huge opportunity for smaller businesses to present themselves as value-based ethical and constant in their focus on delivering value and engaging user experiences. Value-based marketing might turn out to be the biggest opportunity of the decade. Don’t waste it.

—– Walter Adamson