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6 Ways to Build Trust & Ramp Up Your Marketing

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 consumers' psyches."

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 the message.

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 McKee Wallwork 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."

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