||It's been a rough few seasons.
"Consumers are fatigued by the stress brought on by world disorder,"
says Charlie Elberson, President of Elberson Partners, an advertising
agency in Charlotte, N.C. "(North) Americans are starving for
relationships they can understand with entities they can trust. This
represents a great opportunity for brands to gain a foothold in
You ought to focus on how you can demonstrate to customers that, no
matter what goes on around the world, you can be trusted. Mind you,
trust isn't something you can fake. You must be sincerely mean what
you say and do. But there's no reason to be shy about getting out
Here are six practical
ways to market trustworthiness.
1. Honour exceptional promises.
May companies tout service but few deliver. If
you make promises you cannot keep, you're doing business on the consumer
fault line. Then it's only a matter of time. Customers will eventually cease
to believe anything you have to say of offer. False promises not only waste
resources, they bankrupt brand equity. To gain market share, think
creatively about what you can guarantee that will make you stand out. "Tell
customers you'll return every inquiry within 12 hours or that all
appointments will be met on time," suggests Sharron Senter, a
marketing consultant based in Merrimac, Mass. "State some facts that
distinguish you from the competition and fulfill them over and over again."
2. Watch your language.
Your fab new widget will not "revolutionize"
business or "totally change" life as we know it. Consumers are dead weary of
howitzer marketing. They've seen and heard it all. These days, keep it
straight and simple. "Use terms that are direct, on message." advises Winter
Prosapio, Director of marketing for Sport Clips, a Georgetown, Texas-based
hair care franchise. "Whether it's two-for-one or 0% financing, stick to the
brand-sell formula. You can also use humour to crack the trust wall,” she
says, so long as it's on message and makes customers remember you. "Humour
disarms the skeptic."
3. Work the relationship.
The best methods for forging connections
with customers will vary with the industry. But technology has multiplied
your options. With the CAN-SPAM law and all the filtering software, e-mail
marketing is used more effectively now to retain and reward valued customers
— in other words, to build trust. (Customer acquisition is moving into
direct mail and other channels.) Password-protected Web sites and premiums
also provide possibilities that can satisfy your best customers. Still, you
don't need bells and whistles to show customers you care. Send personal
thank-you notes. Call valued customers to chat about deals and sales. Don't
take any such customer for granted. "Relationships are reciprocal, meaning
I'll tell you a secret if you tell me one," says Steve McKee, president at
Henderson, an Albuquerque, N.M., ad agency. An old ad adage says if you
admit a negative, you gain a positive, says McKee. "So a car dealer might
admit that shopping for cars is an awful process. Or a retailer could
apologize for its poor parking situation." The idea is to admit sincere
vulnerability, which, over time, builds trust.
4. Get customers to vouch for you.
"To overcome suspicion and win trust,
include lots of customer testimonials in your marketing, with full names,
cities, and states, to show the results that real people get using your
product," says author and consultant Kevin Donlin at Guaranteed Marketing in
Edina, Minn. The cheapest and most effective marketing, of course, is one
friend recommending your product to another. Whatever you do to build
customer referrals and word of mouth — including frequent-buyer programs,
prizes or discounts — will be well worth it.
5. Adopt a cause.
In 1991, Sunny Kobe Cook opened the doors
to her first Sleep
Country USA shop in Seattle. Less than a decade later, Sleep Country had
grown into a 28-store retail mattress chain with more than $350 million in
sales. Yet the start-up initially had several strikes against it. "We were a
new business in a market dominated by a well-established, large retailer,"
Cook says. "We were in an industry that has many unscrupulous players."
Dollars to spare for marketing were nil to none. The solution? "We got
publicly involved with the community." Cook recycled old mattresses for
charity and made that part of the company's advertising. She partnered with
local media to create drop-off centers in the stores to collect old coats,
school supplies or holiday gifts for kids. Sleep Country donated mattresses
to local homeless shelters and then paid to air radio and TV spots about the
organizations. "The exposure was a huge benefit to small organizations that
could never justify the expense. And we became known in the community as
something more than just another retailer," Cook says. The result for Sleep
Country was a boost in market share. "More than 25% of our customers cited
our visible community role as the reason for selecting our store," says
Cook, who has since retired.
6. Create Missionaries.
All the advice about how to treat
customers also applies to staff. Treat employees the way you want them to
interact with customers and you'll be developing brand missionaries. "Role
model how you want employees to behave and act, and they will follow suit,"
says Roberta Guise, a San Francisco marketing consultant. "Create messages
that express these values. Hang message posters on the walls and in the
lobby. Use the value messages as anchor themes for your promotions." That
way, your marketing is seamless. Everywhere employees go, they will talk up
the benefits of your company. Today, amid mounting marketing clutter and ads
beamed everywhere, from satellite TV and radio to elevator and doctors'
offices, it's important to gain profile as a company that customers remember
and can rely on. Says Cook, "Building trust with consumers is an essential
element of success."