We used to say the truth was slippery. If we could never quite grasp it, still we believed it was out there somewhere, swimming the currents of events, perspective, and time. And as slippery as it might have been, getting at the truth mattered.
These days, by contrast, truth is not only more difficult than ever to pin down, for many it’s become unimportant to the point that they consider adherence to objective facts to be a weakness. It’s no wonder, then, that “post-truth” is Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, “post-truth politics” has its own Wikipedia page, and his spokespeople say that the president of the United States of America should be taken “seriously but not literally” and that untruths from his administration are actually “alternative facts.”
In this environment, trust is at a premium in business as well as in politics. If over time you show people that you’re telling them the truth, they’ll become loyal customers. But if customers feel betrayed by your company or your brand, it can destroy your reputation—and your bottom line. Here’s what you need to do to earn and keep trust in the marketplace:
1. Know your customer. Want customers to trust you? Show them that you understand them—that you know what the world looks like through their eyes. To do this, take the pulse of customers regularly—informally, in the course of business conversations, as well as formally via questionnaires and polls.
2. Deliver what you promise. Trust is earned. If your product doesn’t do what you say it does, if you fail to meet service-level promises, or if your company behaves in ways that contradict your brand promise, there’s no good reason for customers to trust you—which can be a Very Big Deal for your bottom line. Just ask Volkswagen, which severely tarnished its reputation by misleading consumers and regulators about diesel emissions—and cost itself tens of billions of dollars in the process.
3. Protect your reputation online. While programmatic advertising has made online advertising more cost-effective, it also makes it possible that your ads will appear alongside content that you do not want associated with your brand. One recent example: over concerns that their ads were accompanying hate-speech videos on YouTube, companies including AT&T, Verizon, PepsiCo, Walmart, Starbucks, General Motors, and Johnson & Johnson pulled advertising from Google.
Meanwhile, the nature of the internet means that stories about your company can spread like, well, viruses—regardless of whether those stories are true. For example, consider McDonald’s, which recently found itself the victim of a viral rumor that its burgers were made using worms. (They’re not.)
The most immediate thing you can do to protect your reputation online is to engage on social media. Follow what people are saying about you, so you can proactively manage challenges like fake news about your company or your ads appearing where they shouldn’t. You can use tools to make it easy. Or, if you have the budget, you can employ an online reputation management (ORM) firm to take care of it for you.
4. Add value with content marketing. Developing an ongoing relationship with customers is a great way to build trust—and brand loyalty. Content marketing is one of the best ways available for engaging customers. The key is to deliver real, specific value to customers—when they most need it, in a voice that speaks to them. This can mean educating and entertaining a broad audience with ads; delivering thought leadership to decision-makers via white papers, blog posts, and articles; or overcoming obstacles to sales via case studies. And make sure to use customer personas and creative briefs to create the most-effective content marketing possible.
In an environment like ours, where the concept of truth is under assault, the way to stand out among customers is not to embrace post-truth. Rather, it’s to show them that your brand is and will remain a beacon of truth.