Tag Archives: customer research

Social Media and the Trust Deficit

My first car was a land yacht from the early 1970s. It leaked oil everywhere, and only ran on seven cylinders — when it ran at all. By the time I was 19, the car and I were mortal enemies. By then, I had rebuilt or replaced every moving part under the hood – including the engine. Then the transmission disintegrated.


As my car was towed away, I asked a friend of mine how often one should have to replace engines and transmissions in cars. He replied,

“I don’t really know, Steve. I drive a Honda.”

My friend had unknowingly become a brand ambassador for Honda that day. See, friends and peers can be valuable sources of information. We listen to our friends. We trust our friends. Their experiences with products lend weight and credibility to their opinions. Which is why I was startled by a portion of Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer which suggests that the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of information about a company dropped by almost half since 2008, from 45% to 25%.”

Something about this statistic didn’t sound right to me. It seems to conflict with my sense of intuition. Sure, the economy is terrible, but why would we suddenly consider our friends “less credible”? So, I wondered… What kinds of questions were being asked in this survey? What could have changed since 2008?

Edelman states that the survey “consisted of 25-minute telephone interviews… (with) 4,875 informed publics in two age groups (24-34 and 35-64). All informed publics met the following criteria: college educated, household income in the top quartile for their age in their country, read or watch business/news media at least several times a week, follow public policy issues in the news several times a week.”

Here is one of the questions asked in the survey:

Q: If you heard information about a company from one of these people, how credible would the information be?

Results (highest credibility to lowest):

Expert, Industry analyst, NGO representative, Person like yourself, CEO, Government official, or regular employee.

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. To me, it would seem that we seek out different types of peers depending on the type of information we’re looking for. And with the recent economic downturn, we are more likely to turn to experts for information about companies, more than to traditional media or a fan page on FaceBook. Included in our conversations about products are discussions about transparency and trustworthiness of corporations. Survey results also show that consumers are wary of profits, and are increasingly interested in a company’s standing as a corporate citizen. The survey was limited to attitudes about companies and corporate reputations. It was not about the products or services they provide.

It’s the difference between asking “Which product should I buy?” and “What kind of company should I buy it from?”

As the results of Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer go viral, it’s important to keep this context in mind. It would be a stretch to infer that there’s a sudden trust deficit among peer groups or that Social Media is less effective in a recession. The good news is that we still listen to our friends, especially when the topic is about recommending a particular product and brand.

P.S.   If you must know… I have been a proud Honda owner for 20 years.

— Steve Close, Senior Media Buyer


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Three techniques for using your customer’s voice to give you a competitive edge

With the products and services the agency supports, we often recommend bringing in the voice of the consumer to the conversation. It’s a gut check to ensure a client is really hearing what its customers are saying. While we spend time gathering the inside point of view from the client and their teams, there is no substitute for uncovering the true opinions and perceptions of the marketer’s customers, prospects and even its competition’s customers.

Are customers passionate about the brand? And why? Do they have negative feelings about the brand or a product? Have they had a good or bad experience recently? This is insight that can be used to bring in new customers, improve products and address misconceptions. Or even better, get your existing customers to buy more and tell their friends about the product.

Unfortunately, there are businesses that just don’t embrace this point of view. Sometimes, it’s not because they don’t value their customers’ and prospects’ opinions. More often, it has to do with corporate objectives and strategies that don’t necessarily line-up with outside points of view. And, in this economic environment, the importance of marketing communications falls to the bottom of the priority pile.

During these times, it’s getting even more difficult for a company with a deaf ear to succeed. Because no matter how much money they spend talking to the consumer, they will have never addressed what the consumer has asked for. And with consumers, using social media to talk about their experience, word will spread quickly if a brand doesn’t listen to its customers.

The good news is that it is easy to begin listening. Here are three ways you can start today.
1) Regularly conduct independent research and track your results. This is even more important in a tough economy.
2) Use social media tools to track opinion and reach out to consumers in real time.
3) Finally, make sure you are working with PR and marketing partners that will tell you the truth and help you effectively communicate it to your customers.

No matter what’s going on internally – and this recession has changed that even more – discovering the outside view of your product or service is critical to success.

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