Consumer trust in social media platforms and advertising is at an all-time low. At the same time, influencer and celebrity endorsement are reportedly reaching saturation.  As a result, Trust Marketing, a concept which originated fourteen years ago at MIT, is coming to the fore again in marketers’ minds.

Trust marketing encourages businesses to actively build up as much trust as possible with their customers and then to use it for the long-term good of the business. With consumers increasingly sceptical of many forms of “push” marketing, choosing to rely on your customers’ trust as a way to grow, can be a refreshing change.

Which approaches are open to marketers in this changing environment? One of the simplest ways businesses can get started with trust marketing is to launch a referral programme.  Referral is an excellent way for brands to develop their relationships with existing customers, meanwhile new ones are introduced in a way which maximises the potential for future trust.  However, for brands who are more used to the push model of paid advertising this means exploring new territory.

Last year, Mention Me conducted research with 2,000 UK consumers into what motivates them to recommend, and what qualities make a brand referrable. So what should businesses think about when considering setting up referral? Which factors are likely to make the programme a success? Using our research as a starting point, here are three suggestions:

Start by understanding how trust drives referral

We have a natural altruistic, desire to share good experiences with friends. There is also a sense of pride in letting friends in on the secret of a brand worth sharing.

So what are the main drivers for sharing? According to our research, 76 percent of those questioned stated that a brand being credible or trustworthy is the most important attribute for them in driving referral. Good product quality and customer service were also table-stakes for getting a referral to happen according to the research.

The research also suggested that we need to know someone personally in order to fully trust a recommendation. Only three percent said they’d trust a celebrity recommendation, and five percent would trust a blogger or influencer. This contrasts starkly with 50 percent trusting a friend and 46 percent a partner or spouse.

They remove the barriers

Looking at referral behaviour from the reverse angle, we also asked why people wouldn’t recommend a brand. Our research revealed that 41 percent, the highest percentage of those questioned, would not refer a brand if a friend told them not to shop there. It seems the social risk of sharing a brand that friends have already dismissed is just too high.

Not surprisingly, the research also revealed that 72 percent of those questioned wouldn’t recommend a poor quality product, 65 percent wouldn’t recommend if they experienced bad customer service and 57 percent were put off if the return process was difficult.

Even with a willingness to share a credible brand, inertia can still be a big barrier to referral. The right referral offer is important to overcome that inertia, with respondents preferring a referral for themselves (59 percent), compared to one which led with a reward for their friends (just 16 percent).

Get the timing right

As with every form of marketing, timing is key. Once the foundation for trust is established between a consumer and a brand, and the barriers to recommendation removed, success hinges upon how and where the referral prompt is implemented.

At this stage we recommend identifying your customer’s point of greatest delight, and also specific touchpoints in their interactions with the brand. Including referrals at these key times is most likely to lead to conversion.

Referral and the future of trust-based marketing

Marketing will continue to evolve and brands should continue to explore new channels to reach customers. With recent trust lapses by well-known social media platforms, one theme from our research, that brands can’t afford to neglect, is the value consumers place on trust and authenticity.

Customer referral programmes have emerged as key channels in this new world of trust marketing. Getting started with referral is not hard: focus on creating the right environment for trust, remove barriers, and prompt customers to refer at the right time. Under these circumstances your customers will do your marketing for you; creating a virtuous circle of ever-growing trust.

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