Advertising in an Age of Distrust

As the stock market crumbles, retail sales fall and consumer confidence plummets, businesses are looking for ways to survive and thrive in this economic climate. In October the consumer confidence index dropped 32 points, marking the single largest monthly drop since measurement for this index began in 2002. So how does a company build and maintain trust when consumer confidence is at an all time low?

Bill Bergman, president and CEO of the Bergman Group, a Richmond-based integrated communications agency and an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond, has seen his share of market volatility over the past 30 years and offers some insight, “When the world seems full of uncertainty, one of the greatest marketing opportunities companies have is to build and maintain trust,” says Bergman. “New media channels create opportunities to reinforce this trust.” In addition, Bergman offers these guidelines for creating trustworthy brands.

Consistently Communicate:

In times of uncertainty consumers will do business with companies that they trust. Now is not the time for abrupt starts and stops in communication, which can undermine your reputation. Customers need to know what a company stands for on a consistent basis and your messages should remain consistent to hold validity with your customers. Historically, companies that have withstood hard times have stayed true to their core brand and messaging, while adapting to their customers’ situations and adjusting to external market conditions along the way.

Choose a Credible Medium:

Choosing the right communication medium is essential to the trust building process. The medium by which you communicate can either establish or erode your customers’ trust. You need to reach your customers in the media that they find most credible. And within this context a business must think about the generation and demographics that they are trying to reach. For instance, reaching teens through text messaging is a reputable way to reach this audience, but would be highly ineffective with a more mature demographic who would find this delivery medium intrusive and abrupt. One of the best examples of choosing the right new media to engage a younger audience segment was the recent presidential race won by President-Elect Barack Obama. The Obama Campaign used new media, relationally, to connect with the younger generation, which no doubt gave them an edge in the election. And this appreciation and use of new media will forever change future political campaigns. Businesses can learn from this example and apply these strategies to their communications efforts.

Now is the Time to Do Something New:

Many businesses think that they must cut marketing budgets to save money, but this is the worst thing a company can do. You just can’t stop communicating with your customers. If you are not reaching your customers, you need to find new ways to communicate and build rapport with them. We are on the edge of an exciting time in advertising, where the possibilities are endless, and affordable with new media. Along with this, new media provides the ability to capture ROI data quickly and be able to respond and react accordingly. For example, if a company is trying to reach a young adult male audience, a new advertising option is product placement that is part of an electronic game. We’re also seeing mobile media applications that provide instant coupons for loyal customers that are traveling near a point of purchase.

Watch the Tone:

The days of “shout it out” messaging are gone as consumers have the ability to tune out advertising as never before. With new media channels companies need to be invited in by their audience through a process known as “self selection.” This requires a softer, more subtle approach and if done in the right way, offers the ability to surround your customer through touch points (or opportunities to reach your customer) before, during and after a sales cycle. Using integrated communications, appropriate tone in messaging with the right media vehicles can help you stay in touch with your customer and build the trust needed to compete in the new economy.

Leave a Reply