/ Insights

Relationship Marketing: How Trust Works in a Digital World

By Richard Albrecht

Trust Digital World Hero Image

I’ve previously written about the importance of understanding one’s customers and the power of branding in B2B marketing. One of the key elements of customer-centric marketing and long-term brand building is trust. A business’s ability to earn the trust of its customers is one of the most important factors of success for any business. Historically, personal relationships have been the most effective vehicle for building that trust and, eventually, brand loyalty. Today, most marketers are tasked with building trust through digital relationships, which brings both challenges and opportunities.


Who do you trust?

Recently, Nielsen research posted a study about trust in advertising. When asked what advertising sources they trust most, 83 percent of people say “someone I know,” and 66 percent say “opinions posted online.” Of course, most of us use trusted friends and colleagues for advice and product recommendations, but I find it interesting how willing we are to trust the opinions of people online. These are people we’ve never met—people who we may or may not trust in any other situation. This oftentimes misplaced trust leaves many customers vulnerable to the shady tactics of spurious marketers. Amazon’s recent lawsuit against fake reviewers is a perfect example of the importance of trust in the digital sphere. However, it’s also our willingness to trust that allows authentic brands to create a true value exchange and earn customer loyalty.


Why trust matters

Why is trust so important for marketers? Trust is a very important part of our interaction with the world. In our communities, in society as a whole, and in business, trust is the key factor that enables us to function and thrive. I recently read an article about key factors that enable trust in the March 2014 edition of Psychology Today. The key psychological driver of trust is an assumption that if you need help, you can turn to someone who will support you when you need it, coupled with a recognition that the support will be beneficial.

Marketers can use an awareness of this basic psychological construct of trust to build their brands, grow customer relationships, and go to market more effectively. Customers expect brands (consciously or subconsciously) to help them when asked, support an ongoing relationship, and make things right when they go wrong.  

Even in our highly digitized state, people tend to form better relationships in the real world than in the virtual world, so marketers must get smart about building and scaling their digital relationship engines. And it is hard to scale a relationship engine when our capacity for trusted connections is limited. For the nerds among us, I recently came across some interesting stuff on the limits of relationships and trust, based on our brain’s capacity to form bonds.

Marketers should take heed of the current thinking that posits that the digital ecosystem can increase people’s capacity to form trusted relationships. To succeed in today’s complex marketing environment, marketers must create a process to actualize trust across the digital ecosystem. Smart marketers will use that trust to build programs that drive sales, loyalty, advocacy, and referrals, which in turn create more trust in a virtuous relationship-marketing cycle.


How brands build trust

Here are three main elements that help brands build trust in a customer relationship and some examples of firms that have done this well.

1. Be authentic

In 2009, Domino’s was hit with a PR crisis that went viral. Two employees decided to film a prank in the store and post it online. It was a PR nightmare for the brand – reaching more than a million views before being taken down. Rather than a traditional press release apology, they released a YouTube comeback. The President of the company owned up to their mistakes, apologized, and announced new hiring practices.  They also started a Twitter account to respond directly to complaints. Customers will reward authenticity and transparency. Domino’s used digital channels to address a major crisis in a more authentic and transparent way.  

2. Give more than the sale

There is a reason millennials say Amazon provides the best customer service. Despite their negative press in recent weeks, you can’t deny their outstanding customer service. For millions around the world, Amazon is the trusted name in ecommerce. Why? Because they go beyond just sending you what you ordered. They are there when you need them.  They are quick to offer replacements, refunds, and recommendations. And they can keep their sense of humor in the process. Marketing doesn’t stop after the transaction. The relationship continues and so should your service.

3. Honor the relationship

The Starbucks Gold Card program has done more than transform mobile payments; they do a tremendous job adding value through relationship marketing. The program recognizes loyalty, provides relevant offers, and rewards purchases. Starbucks has done what every successful marketer needs to do: honor the unique relationship with each customer.

In conclusion, trust is a must-have for any successful marketer because trust is the primary psychological force that generates purchase intent and loyalty. Our unconscious minds won’t let us engage fully if something doesn’t feel right. And as we become increasingly facile with digital connections, those feelings apply to our digital interactions. Marketers have a range of digital tools at their fingertips, but none of them can generate a relationship without an understanding that trust is a two-way street.

You might also like