Rebuild Consumer's Trust in the Marketplace

September 12, 2018 David Cardiel

Trust is complicated. Especially in this day and age where we are inundated with multiple digital channels disseminating information 24/7. It may not be time to hit the panic button, but it’s become essential that companies acknowledge this trust deficit as it directly ties back to the success of a brand. It’s this erosion of trust that got me thinking about how to build- or regain- consumers’ trust in the marketplace.

In an effort to seek answers and regain some of that lost trust, I recently sat down with Tiffaney Fox Quintana, VP of Marketing at HelloSign. Tiffaney has a deep experience with both consumer and enterprise marketing and has held a variety of leadership roles in internet and technology companies throughout her career.

Given her experience and the team she manages there were a couple of topics I wanted to cover, first and foremost, increasing marketing's trust and effectiveness. Second, leveraging the concept of Digital PR to stand out above the noise, then how to tie PR to revenue goals and what integrating campaign strategies work best to amplify a marketing team's objectives.

Here’s a rundown of that interview. 

David: Tiffaney welcome.

Tiffaney: Thank you David it’s wonderful to be here! Before we go any further there’s a few things I’d like folks to walk away with: PR is dynamic and ever-changing, and it's an amazing time to be a PR professional. So remember, PR is not on an island, it needs to be completely integrated into the marketing world and part of the revenue equation.

David: A truly integrated approach, and thanks for adding that color Tiffaney. We polled our audience listening to the interview. With this crisis of trust in the marketplace my question is "What do you think key contributors are to a declining consumer trust in marketing?" Overwhelmingly trust in social media takes center stage. Tiffaney, your thoughts?

Above via the Edelman Trust Barometer 2018

Tiffaney: First off, no surprises. On the inauthentic reviews, that one was kind of up there neck and neck with social media for me. I was just reading an article on the New York Times, and it was really interesting about the tobacco company- and everything that they're doing with paid influencers and these paid ambassadors- and really how they have really stretched regulations. They're not supposed to advertise on TV anymore, but they've really taken to social media. And with their inauthentic reviews, there are these paid...influencers that have taken over and disrupted the perception of [tobacco] where they're targeting young adults. And so I think that that's a decline in the trust in marketing.

David: Right. Yeah I don't have a lot to disagree with there of what you just said.  Social media, obviously—  who do you really trust out there? And when you evaluate your followers as well as who you want to interact with- just the sheer volume of choices that are out there- it's overwhelming. I know that's a bit of a macro view of things, but we're just inundated with information and channels on a daily basis to choose from, both in business and our personal lives, that it's a lot to choose from.

So Tiffaney, let’s talk about some core areas in communications: The state of PR, and the state of social marketing. The state of PR; very fascinating right now don’t you think? There's rapid change in the signal-to-noise ratio with fewer journalists than ever. You take major metropolitan newspapers that are laying off 50% of their team at some of their newsrooms, and there's five PR pros for every journalist. Meanwhile, companies are working to get their messages out, to connect with journalists, and get those messages through to them. So there's a lot of change that's going on right now that's contributing to this. And one of the things that can be very exciting and that's leading to this explosion in social and influencer marketing is that the very definition of who a journalist is has fundamentally changed. 

Tiffaney: Very true, I agree. The reality is, everyone has always had an opinion, and in the past those with the privilege and education of being a journalist had a voice. But today, with the rise of social media, everyone has a voice and an opportunity to be an influencer. This of course increases the noise, and how do you filter through that? How do you know who to listen to? Who to trust becomes very challenging for the consumer. Bottom line, it becomes even more challenging for that PR or marketing person to identify who the right influencer is.

David: Yeah. Good points. Let’s pivot into the state of social. For those of us who do work in social media, we know that there's constant change. There are two and a half billion social media users worldwide, two billion of those on Facebook and most of them are following at least one brand on social. So people turn to social media as an outlet for information on brands they're interested in. The opposite side of that is also true, companies of all sizes, have a social media presence because they know this is the best place for them to reach target audiences. But again, we kind of go back to the problem, and that’s raising your signal above the noise.

Tiffaney: People spend at least 135 minutes a day on social media. That’s is a ton of Snaps and a lot of selfies. You get on Facebook and before you know it two hours have passed. It's really easy; it happens to all of us. As a brand, you have to have more than a presence, you really need to have a plan. You need to know where your customers are and how you're going to relate to them. So you can make the most of that engagement.

For example, my son loves Fortnite. But Epic Games isn’t going to spend their money advertising Fortnite on LinkedIn. They know where their audience is. They're going go to Twitch, or some other social media platform like that. So I think, just how you are going to engage with your audience, it needs to resonate. A B2B company is going to focus more on LinkedIn where relevance prevails. At the end of the day, it's your voice to the customer and your opportunity to amplify that message, so be relevant and on point so the people you're engaging with get something out of it.

David: So true, and this is a monumental moment for me. The first time I brought Fortnite into the office place, so thanks for that.

[laughter]

Tiffaney: It's a daily conversation at my house, so it's hard to escape it.’

[laughter]

David: I’ve mentioned it now a couple of times and that’s the concept of digital PR; it's really the convergence of all these things, right? When we talk about influencer, social, and digital marketing that’s rapidly changing- then toss in advancements to traditional PR and the journalist landscape- you get Digital PR. All of those things happen now in a 24/7 news cycle through digital channels and the PR pro has the choice to step forward in that digital landscape or remain among analog dinosaurs.

Tiffaney: Yeah, that's right. It's definitely an exciting time to be in PR and there are more tools out there than ever before to actually provide measurements and understand the effect that you're having. The role has expanded to include a lot more than pushing out a press release, or dealing with a crisis management issue. Today's PR role, especially where I sit, includes not just PR, but also social, brand, corporate events, thought leadership, and analyst relations. It has a huge impact and I think as you mentioned, this is digital PR. It's the culmination of all those things. So, instead of playing defense, calling PR only when something bad happens, for the first time ever the PR practitioner gets to play offense.

David: Well put Tiffaney! Let's get into the topic about crisis of trust in the marketplace. There's just so much stuff out there so the question becomes, how do you stand out from the noise? How do you prove that you're a real person, or somebody that's actually important so that people want to listen to you? It seems like a daunting task right now, to work within this space and to generate trust. Your thoughts?

Tiffaney: Yeah, and I think as marketers, we have to be careful and diligent, right? There's a lot of tools that make things easier for us and as we strive in the effort to find that holy grail of automation we need to think about how we are executing on those tools and when we do it and how we do it- in a way that's really authentic and clear to our audience- so we just don't add more noise to the mix. Remember, don't deceive your audience, just be clear and upfront and tell them. They understand that some of these things are being used, but just be authentic.

David: Authenticity. I think that's key. We've got just a little foreshadowing of what's to come here a little bit, but just to keep putting icing on the cake in this age of mistrust, let's call it, it is fascinating right now when you look at the influencers- or in the case of what you're seeing- is the diminishing trust in influencers as things go along.

Companies are working hard to get their messages out, connect with journalists and such. There's just a lot of change that's going on right now and it’s leading to the explosion on social primarily, and influencer marketing particularly, because of the very definition of who a journalist is and how it's fundamentally changed. There's a shrinking pool of traditional influencers and reducing of staff but that's where the lessening of authenticity, as you mentioned before, has created this problem with the trust.

Tiffaney: You may have seen this trust equation before. It's from the Harvard Business school, but basically it’s is a combination of trust and several things. If you don't have any of these things, then you're not going to be able to actually create trust with your audience or build it. So if you break it down, in this formula, trust is composed of three things divided by another thing.

Above via Use This Equation to Determine, Diagnose, and Repair Trust

The first one is credibility. That's the idea that you have expertise, experience, that you're knowledgeable about something. For example, when we talk about thought leadership, it's a way that we establish our own credibility. This takes time, but if you get out there and you push your knowledge, establishing yourself as a thought leader, that's how you become credible.

Then there's reliability. Can you be counted on? Do you carry through what you said you're going to do? Are you executing? Those two are pretty self-explanatory, and they're very rational.

The third one is more on the emotional side of it, authenticity, sometimes related to intimacy. How intimate are you with your audience? How true are you, being of your own self to that audience? Instead of trying to deceive them by being something you're not. So if they really feel like they know who you are, those are three important elements: Credibility, reliability, and authenticity.

All those three things are great, but you'll notice that they're divided by one specific thing, that's the perception of self-interest. Now, that's really like how much are you in this for yourself versus your audience. So if your self-interest is really high, then it's going to outweigh all the other great stuff that you just did. If you are there to really be there for your audience, then you can really create a foundation of trust. People see right through this, so without all of these things together- it all works hand in hand- you need to be knowledgeable and informative, consistent, and relevant to your audience.

Finally, I think the big thing is, your audience needs to get something out of what you're putting out there. It needs to be a two-way street, and it can't just be self-serving, and so if it's an infomercial, people are going to immediately zone out. Nobody wants to listen to only you talking about yourself. There's no authenticity in that. 

David: Not at all. As we get into the next section here are some poll results from the audience. The question: "Does the marketing team at your organization incorporate PR impact and data results into its reporting?" Wow, we've got about 45% that's saying no, the marketing team does not actually incorporate PR. Tiffaney, does that surprise you?

Tiffaney: This is not surprising at all. I think sometimes it's because a lot of times it's not so integrated that we seem to leave things out, and we forget how important it is with everything that's happening at that very top of funnel, and what is really truly driving some of the things that are converting to customers for us. But I'm not actually surprised by this.

I was reading recently that 50% of PR pros actually believe their Exec team only thinks of them as brand awareness and out of that only 12% of them actually think of themselves as revenue generating. That’s crazy to me. This thinking needs to shift especially when you think about organic social and direct traffic going up as a result of your PR strategy, this counts just like paid traffic does.

There's a perception out there that organic traffic is free, well it's not. You have to factor in the cost of head count, agency fees and content. All of that feeds and grows your organic channel so you have to factor that all into a fully loaded CAC. Don’t fear this, you have to own it, you have to understand these things, and you have to take credit for it. Guess what—  if that website direct traffic is actually going up, well gee, maybe you did something and people or your brand awareness is going up. Take some credit for it, own it, and don't fear it.

David: Love it. Don’t be fearful of taking credit.

Tiffaney: Yup, I think the more you actually start to understand that your efforts are driving these types of traffic channels- which convert to leads, which convert to pipeline, which convert to revenue- you actually start to understand your impact on the business. In business you have a choice: You can either be a profit center or a cost center. If you want a seat at the table, you need to choose to be a profit center. The more you step back and look at how the PR function can actually add to the impact and growth of a company, and communicate it in these ways to your executive team, the more you will find value and importance in your own role outside of the various traditional things that PR has done.

PR is becoming the driver for integrated marketing. When you think about marketing, really what you're trying to do is get somebody to trust your message, and you want them to engage and trust you as the source. There’s nothing more powerful than that third-party endorsement and whether that's coming from an analyst, traditional media, a journalist, an influencer, or a person on social media there’s one thing to remember: You have a ton of power being that communications professional. You are wielding a disproportionate amount of power in this new world. So tread lightly with it.

David: That's right. In thinking about it, scalability comes to mind. More budget, more stories, more audience influence, more authority generated. The items above that, true measurements with the right market places, the right cycle of news, those things all can balance out the scalability of its function. The result, you're able to actually substantiate the ROI at the end of the day.

Tiffaney, amazing job, wow. Thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your insights in how to rebuild that consumer trust.

Tiffaney: David it was my pleasure, thank you for having me. I hope I provided a little insight into this space, this problem and the folks watching or reading can take a few tokens away to help move the needle in their organization.


If you want to learn more or hear my discussion with Tiffaney in its entirety check the video: Rebuild Consumers' Trust Through the Rise of Digital PR

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. 

About the Author

David Cardiel

David's a Demand Marketing Strategist that’s spent the last two decades working in PR and marketing for multi-million dollar brands and startups developing creative growth strategies and communications plans to jump-start new opportunities. David is currently the Director of Segment Marketing at TrendKite leading a high-performing marketing team in the development and execution of ABM strategies.

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