Building trust in uncertain times


Jacob Whitish, head of global sales and marketing at Clarity PR, gives us his tips for building trust with customers in difficult times.

Jacob Whitish is a specialist in the psychology of marketing and new product launches. Calling in from San Francisco, he joined Barclays Eagle Labs’ Mark Harrison for a webinar discussion on how businesses can consider building trust with customers during uncertain times. Here, he gives us his top tips.

Building trust through cognitive bias

You might not consider yourself a natural marketer. Still, it’s possible to learn how to build up a trusting and responsive audience in a short space of time by understanding the psychology that drives a customer to buy. Whether you’ve had concerns about marketing in the past, or you’re worried that the current climate makes your task an impossible one, I hope to put those concerns to rest.

First, I want you to consider the importance of networking. Around 85% of all job openings are filled by someone in the job poster’s immediate network, and a strong network is often cited as a very valuable asset. However a given network is made up – be it a group of friends, colleagues, or customers – the underlying currency that powers that network is trust. With that in mind, I’m going to take you through five cognitive biases that might help to build up trust within a network at a fast pace, and explain them through practical examples.

Reflect your customers

When you walk into a room full of strangers, you might move toward the people that you subconsciously perceive to be similar to you. This is an example of a cognitive bias known as in-group bias, and you can make the most of it in your marketing to really prime your target customer base.

Consider whether you could display imagery that is closely associated to who you think your target customer is. For instance, if you target millennial tech workers, include images that clearly reflect that demographic. When a new user interacts with your brand they’ll make judgements both very quickly and largely subconsciously. You can harness that judgement by guiding a target market to see a reflection of themselves in your brand.

Build authority through familiarity

We tend to develop an affinity for things that we see as familiar. We are likely to trust a brand that we have seen many times before, even if we haven’t gained any new information each subsequence time we’ve been exposed to it. This cognitive bias is known as the mere-exposure effect.

Industries that rely heavily on consumer trust can sometimes compress a sales cycle down by months, just by building up their reputation through familiarity. One great way to include this practice in your business is to write several pieces of educational content which positions your company as an authority in its space, and then distributing that content over social media channels and your own website. The more you can get your name and your brand in front of your potential audience, the more they’ll trust you – even if they don’t realise it.

This builds up to another key cognitive bias: the authority heuristic. As observed in many psychology experiments, people are likely to trust those that they perceive to be authoritative figures and comply with their instructions. By building up the familiarity of your brand, customers may come to see the brand as an authority in its space.

Create a crowd

The bandwagon effect needs little introduction. Simply put, people will tend to trust something when they see that others have put their trust in it too. Fortunately for us it’s an easy effect to make the most of through social media platforms. Make sure you’re tracking the impact your posts are having on social media – measuring shares, likes, and comments – to measure that social proof. Testimonials are also vital, and it can help to get the ball rolling by asking friends and family to post a first review.

Even with all this in mind it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. A cognitive bias known as the pratfall effect shows that your likeability will actually increase if you are able to laugh at your own mistakes, or poke fun at yourself. The caveat of course is that customers still need to think of you as competent at what you do. Self-deprecation is good – just don’t go overboard.

Building up a brand in a difficult time

In a time like this, candour is particularly powerful. Sometimes it’s honesty and a message from the heart that goes the furthest. When there’s so much noise, a genuine message can cut through the sea of sometimes hypocritical messages. I’ve found it best to tell my customers exactly what I’m doing in response to the economic downturn. No grand speeches, no handing out advice on what to do. Just an honest message – paradoxically, without trying to sell anything.

Hopefully with these cognitive biases in mind you’ll be able to implement new strategies in your marketing technique, and build up your customers’ trust in your business.

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