The Crucial Importance of Trust in a Confusing Content Landscape
We’ve probably all had the experience of browsing a newspaper or magazine, on or offline, and coming across an article designated as ‘paid’ or ‘sponsored’ content. Depending on the publication, it might contain advice on choosing a digital assistant for the home, city break ideas or a CxO’s guide to leadership. Whether we carry on reading after a paragraph or two probably depends on the answer to a few pertinent questions. Does the article contain genuinely useful information? Is it relevant and engaging? Or more fundamentally, do we trust that the publishers are delivering more than just a cleverly disguised marketing message?
And at a time when the content universe is expanding rapidly, these are questions that – one way or another – we probably find ourselves asking several times a day.
Think of it this way. As an alternative to the sponsored/paid content – which can range from advertorial in a trade magazine to a special report in an online magazine – a business seeking to communicate with its prospects/customers might choose to ‘contribute’ bylined articles to relevant websites or print tiles. More ambitiously, the same business might also create a ‘branded media’ presence, effectively controlling every aspect of its content driven message through its own publication, blog or video blog. Then of course there is the content/ad hybrid that is native advertising. Confused? Most would be.
And last but not least, there is in-depth long form content such as eBooks, industry reports, white papers and webinars. Indeed, 56% of Content Marketing Institute (CMI) members use long form content and 39% see is the most effective means to engage with their audience.
Why Focus on Trust?
So given the range and diversity of content on offer, the chances are that both as consumers, and as working professionals, we are exposed to much more content – created by, or paid for by businesses – than we might at first think. In fact, there is so much of this content that we only have time to engage with a limited amount of it – so we select what is most useful or appealing.
Flipping it over to look at the marketing perspective, there is no guarantee that just because you create reams of content, your target audience will engage. For B2B content creators, an important component to driving engagement lies in winning the trust of your target audience.
For B2B content creators, an important component to driving engagement lies in winning the trust of your target audience.
And that can’t be taken for granted. Content marketing is popular for a number of reasons, not least because quality content can drive enquiries, sales and repeat business.
When the Content Marketing Institute polled its members, 68% said they could demonstrate that content marketing had generated leads and 49% said the same about sales.
But there are challenges around trust. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in organisations is falling. In the US only 48% of consumers trust institutions, compared with 58% in 2017 and in the UK the figure was only 39%. Admittedly the survey relates to the B2C rather than the B2B market but illustrates the problem facing content creators.
The Building Blocks of Trust
So how can a business – particularly in the B2B sector – build a bond of trust with an audience that may be sceptical?
In a recent article for the Content Marketing Institute, Sujan Patel cited some of the ways in which organisations can create trust in their content. These included:
- Creating perceived authority, and
- Adding a third party authority to contribute to the content
I don’t particularly like the term ‘perceived’ – at worst it has connotations of deception, but I do know what the author is getting at – namely that if your content is endorsed, recognised or shared by ‘industry authorities’ or ‘influencers’, people perceive it as credible and tend to place greater trust in what they are reading. And that is important in the world we live in today.
If your content is endorsed, recognised or shared by ‘industry authorities’ or ‘influencers’, people perceive it as credible and tend to place greater trust in what they are reading. And that is important in the world we live in today.
Third party input, particularly in the technology sector might come in the form of analysts primary/secondary research, industry reports, expert opinion, vendor analysis (aka Gartner’s Magic Quadrant etc), interviews with or analysis/commentary by industry experts; industry stats from independent sources. This is a largely why the technology analyst industry exists (Gartner, Forrester, IDC et al) – their research adds a level of independence and distance from the vendors’ own marketing messages. The association of the vendors brand with their content adds credibility that enterprise technology decision makers rely on to help qualify their decision making. This type of validation is used to support the go-to-market strategy of most of the top technology vendors to one degree or another.
The influence of experts is underlined by the Edelman Trust report, which found that technical experts register a credibility level of 50%.
All of this adds to the credibility of a publication and builds trust.
The same principles apply to research reports, white papers and webinars, where inclusion of third party analysts or industry experts helps create value in the eyes of the audience.
Trust in Short-Format
But what about short form content? A blog? An infographic? A video product review? As the CMI report points out, while 39% of marketers see long form content as the most effective way to reach customers, 44% favour social media posts.
And this takes us into a very different media environment. Almost by definition, a white paper creator assumes (or hopes) that a reader has time to absorb in-depth information. In contrast, anyone using social media to disseminate content has to work on the assumption that in order to stand out from the crowd a tweet or a post must a) quickly catch the eye of the target audience and b) deliver immediate value to time constrained readers. The attention span is somewhat limited.
The same principles that apply to long-form content are equally relevant to a social media post. The content must be relevant and useful to the target reader and make use of any authority that lends itself from third party input. Any market messaging should be secondary to these objectives.
So to sum up, whether it’s long-form or short-form content, if you want it to rise above the tsunami of content that your target audience is drowning in daily, focus on delivering genuine value, not a disguised sales pitch. Be patient and be in it for the long run – the association of your brand with helpful, informative and authoritative content will pay off. You might be pleasantly surprised at just how much trust your brand will earn. And buyers will gravitate towards you, having placed your company on their very cautious radars.
Attention Span image from Graphic Change