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Building Brand Trust in an Age of Mistrust

Prioritize integrity to cultivate brand loyalty

As Americans, we live in an age of increasing vulnerability. Identity theft reports have risen 47% in the last year alone, with a new victim every two seconds, according to the Javelin Strategy 2015 Identity Fraud report. Millennials are perhaps the highest risk because they are the least guarded with the information they reveal online. In addition to identity theft, economic instability, email hacking, terrorism, government surveillance, and fallen entertainment and sports icons all combine to compromise our ability to trust.

The issue of weakening trust is particularly relevant among older Americans, as they are key targets of scam artists seeking to rob them of their considerable life savings. The National Council on Aging warns of 22 such scams that range from healthcare insurance to Medicare, telemarketing and home repair fraud. Many older victims suffer in silence due to embarrassment or the fear of losing their independence if it appears they can’t protect themselves.

Marketers have themselves contributed to society’s waning faith. According to a 2015 study by Ipsos and the 4As, just 4% of Americans believe the marketing industry behaves with integrity, placing this sector below financial institutions, the legal profession, the pharmaceutical industry, Congress and professional sports in terms of consumer perception.

Older consumers are disproportionately skeptical of marketing, believing that marketers either don’t understand them or ignore them altogether. A recent study indicated that fewer than one in four people age 50+ believe marketers do a good job of representing people like them in advertising.  

Yet, consumers age 50+ continue to value advertising. In that same study, a majority indicated that advertising would be helpful if they were in the market for specific products and services—including cellular phone service, car rentals, vacations, and financial products. How can marketers who want to meaningfully impact America’s most powerful spending block—who are responsible for more than half of all consumer spending—address Boomers’ skepticism?

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10 Ways To Build Boomers’ Trust

1. Make a long-term commitment. While Boomers represent the largest share of consumers for a vast majority of products and services, too often their loyalty is taken for granted. In today’s ultra-competitive world, brands need to maintain a constant presence in consumers’ lives not just to develop new customers, but also to protect existing ones.

2. Provide visibility and validity. Representing Boomers’ lives, priorities and interests in marketing efforts validates their existence, and develops a strong mental connection between them and your brand.

3. Express gratitude. Consumers expect to be rewarded for their loyalty through purchase frequency savings programs, but brands that really stand out take it a step further with additional messaging that simply thanks customers for their business and offers to better meet their needs. Airlines do a great job of this.

4. Treat your employees well. Being good to your employees conveys that your company cares about more than profits. Costco has become known for paying decent wages, providing good health benefits, embracing equality, and promoting from within. Such benefits have resulted in high employee loyalty and good press for the brand.

5. Give back. Customers like knowing that their spending allows them to participate in doing social good. In a world where Wells Fargo exploited its consumer base for its own good, companies that do social good will stand out. Companies with strong corporate social responsibility efforts are also a hit with Millennials.

6. Keep good company. Ad networks may be cost-efficient, but they can’t guarantee delivery of your message in an environment that enhances messaging. Leveraging media environments that consumers already trust can provide the unexpressed endorsement of an advertiser.

7. Provide knowledge and transparency online. While an ad can generate awareness, it is no longer enough to drive sale. Among Boomers who use the Internet, 90% conduct research online before making purchase decisions. Make it easy for these consumers to find and learn about your brand online by providing dedicated URLs in advertising, and maximizing the effectiveness of search strategies.

8. Develop strong customer service. The importance of strong phone and online chat customer service can’t be overstated, particularly for serious purchase decisions (e.g. investments, healthcare). Older consumers may first want to gather information independently, but once they are ready to contact a company, they expect to be greeted by a knowledgeable, friendly, helpful person who provides an easy learning and/or buying experience.

9. Develop online communities. There’s safety in numbers. Online communities can serve as brand ambassadors and provide Boomers with the confidence that purchasing a product or service is a good investment.

10. Generate good press. Even the best advertising can’t match the value of independent editorial coverage by reputable media outlets. This is a well-established tactic that is more relevant than ever in the age of mistrust.

The no-shortcuts way to build trust: Justified or not, marketing has played a significant role in the age of mistrust. Brands that want to stand out from the rest must prioritize integrity, part of which means treating the relationship with Boomers with the respect it deserves. There’s no silver bullet solution. Brands simply need to walk the walk.