Experts in trust in the digital age rightly note it’s still just as elusive as ever. According to Rachel Botsman, emotion remains a more important driver than fact. Consumers are taking huge leaps of faith when deciding to place their confidence in the unknown. But while Botsman suggests they often do so without thought, I would argue the opposite. The risk of trusting brands might be big, but few consumers now take it lightly.

Brands are seemingly in the fortunate position of holding more trust than most, but many have chosen a high-risk approach to maintaining this grip. Believing that confidence depends on visibility, they’re following individuals across every channel with an endless barrage of ads. This isn’t the best way to win confidence or keep it. As highlighted in Deloitte’s four factors of trust, humanity is crucial, and authenticity is a big part of that.

Cover-all campaigns don’t inspire confidence

The exact state of brand trust depends on which report you read. While Edelman pegs brands above governments and media firms, GWI research indicates big names and corporations are losing trust fast. Either way, amid inflation, still-soaring interest rates, global conflict, and the long pandemic shadow, consumer confidence levels are shaky, to say the least.

Awareness of the need to work harder on building trust has led many brands to adapt what communications say: meeting demand for responsible advertising and commitment to key causes with more purposeful and human messages. This shift is a good start but earning lasting credibility takes more, brands also need to consider where their ads are placed.

For example, as a football fan, my go-to digital destinations are social platforms such as Twitter. There, I can follow trusted commentators, journalists, and teams, and catch the latest updates — as do 44% of fellow fans. In these spaces, ads for items like football boots would be relevant to my interests. But the same doesn’t count for ads served across every site or app I land on next.

While the intention behind web trailing might be reinforcing connections, it is likely to leave audiences feeling that brands care more about boosting their presence than ensuring ads are the right fit. So, securing consumer faith is going to mean paying more attention to context.

Embracing data-driven heroism

Brand marketers will already be familiar with multiple past studies showing the effectiveness of contextual ads. Despite this strong body of evidence, however, directing spend away from both established and buzzy channels is a bold move that tends to spark fear.

For those who typically lean on high Facebook video views or TikTok impressions as proof of campaign impact, there is understandable hesitancy around making investment changes that could skew their figures and drive misgivings among senior budget holders. And such anxiety is often heightened by the fact many don’t know which mediums are the most trusted.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, my recommendations for tackling these problems involve starting big. Then marketers can pinpoint which path to take for optimal audience engagement. 

1. Go broad, then narrow:

In the era of intelligence overload, we’re hearing plenty of (valid) discussions about trimming data sources to cut complexity. When looking to identify trust hubs, however, the first core requirement is comprehensive consumer knowledge, which calls for wider initial data scope.

Beginning with relatively broad campaign reach – and ongoing performance analysis — will provide a holistic view of audience interactions and behaviours, from which marketers can narrow down to uncover the trusted hotspots they should be investing in.

And if this means sacrificing tried and previously true channels, that’s okay. Taking the brave decision to push budgets towards trusted mediums is what will set brands apart as dedicated to providing genuinely valuable in-the-moment experiences and ultimately drive stronger long-term dividends. Moreover, the more insights marketers gather from experimental new directions, the better they will be able to determine where pivots are needed to bolster trust.

2. Map the full media mix:

Another crucial, and complementary, component of such tailored media planning is ensuring clear cross-channel comparison. Gaining fast-rising recognition as one of the smartest ways to obtain high-level strategic insight, marketing mix modelling (MMM) is perhaps the most obvious option to leverage, not least because of its increasing automation.

Select KPIs to act as tangible signifiers of impact and trust — be that tracking real-time purchases from shoppable videos or shares for branded social content. Then implementing MMM solutions can enable streamlined multi-media assessment and optimisation.

Using incoming data, systems with intelligent analytical capacity simultaneously compare like-for-like metrics across channels. While factoring in the effect of diverse ad formats and variables to define which ad placements are likely to yield desired outcomes now and in future scenarios. Moreover, by taking inevitable misses as learning opportunities, marketers can harness insights to test alternative strategies that enhance effectiveness on each channel.

While breaking with ‘business-as-usual’ spending might sound risky, it’s becoming essential. Brands wanting consumers to take bigger trust leaps must show they are willing to align campaign delivery with real individual preferences, even if that means taking the small yet heroic step of scaling back long-time advertising staples. 

By prioritising the environments truly audiences trust, they will stand a better chance of closing the gap between uncertainty and confidence. What’s more, serving ads across slimmed down, but well chosen, channels will be much less scary than losing consumer trust for good by prioritising scattergun reach. It is what will breed true authenticity. 

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