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  • Writer's pictureBen Smith

Why Trust is the Currency of the Digital Age

The digital landscape is changing again. As outlined in the 3rd Age of Sport manifesto, we are overwhelmed by competition for our attention. From what to watch, to which brands to follow, there are a multitude of factors which influence the consumer and their decisions.

How a brand positions itself is one such influence, underpinning consumer perceptions and shaping actions. Perceptions themselves are driven by trust; research has shown that customers trust recommendations from those perceived as friends more than any form of advertising. Understanding your audience, presenting a trustworthy image, and embodying such qualities can be a key driver for success.

These considerations have been heightened by COVID-19. Decisions have shifted to being almost entirely shaped by how we are seen digitally; conclusions regarding brand reliability and quality are less defined by robust processes, and instead by online reviews, persuasive descriptions and the perception of the organisation being served.

So, what influences trust? This post will touch upon three key influences in the digital age to consider when producing and publishing content: tone of voice, influencer marketing and social issues.

A consistent tone of voice is crucial in successful strategies.

Whilst it can be tempting to hunt for engagement, ensuring consistency in your copy has a better benefit in the long-term; shifts in brand voice can cause confusion, severing the emotional connection to the brand. Research has shown that 66% of consumers define a connection with a brand as driven by trust, and this clearly impacts upon following and engagement.

One of the best examples of ongoing consistency is No Name Brand, a generic brand of grocery and household products. Their success is driven by consistency; the same branding, the same marketing methodology – but we desire repetition in part due to the mere exposure effect, a phenomenon which suggests that people develop a preference for something due to familiarity.

From a sports industry perspective, consistency is just as important. Whether in message, tone, or content, every decision made regarding digital reflects your brand, from culture to core values. Brands can still have personalities and resonate with their audience, such as this example from the Atlanta Falcons after a victory, but a significant departure from the norm can break down this trust, and lead to negative outcomes.

Aligning tone of voice is not merely an immediate solution – building a brand identity takes time. Strategies are a crucial first step, but for a brand to be viewed positively the values must be internalised and replicated across social. Put simply – trust is hard to gain, and easy to lose.

Key takeaway: Trust in brands is driven by consistency in tone of voice and identity. Users follow expecting this consistency, with serious departures prompting negative outcomes for perceptions.

The role of influencers in changing.

Influencer marketing is blossoming, with the industry on track to reach $15 billion by 2022. Influencer effectiveness is driven by social proof; rather than a faceless brand advocating opinions, consumers have a reference point. A recognisable face who provides an opinion that we can resonate with and align perceptions to.

49% of consumers even say that they depend on influencer recommendations. However, there is also scepticism; temporary advocation feels hollow, replicable and financially driven. Influencers can promote the same product for different brands from one week to the next.

Micro-influencers are a potential solution. England Hockey utilised micro-influencers to challenge beliefs, providing experiences that prompted engaging content and strong reach. Adidas’ Tango Squads campaign also showcases how content can be unique, scheduled and engaging. From a sports industry perspective, the lower cost alongside this authenticity represents a significant opportunity for impactful initiatives which drive success.

Utilising micro-influencers can also hold long-term benefits. FIFA Fan Movement is a strong example, a network of over 1,000 diverse football fans across demographics helping to bridge the gap between the organisation and global football. Such collaborations are mutually beneficial, driving authentic creatives and shifting brand perceptions.

Inevitably, through harnessing this desire for more genuine advocates, the likely outcome will be even more long-term partnerships. Social proof is effective. Combining social proof with repeat unwavering exposure reinforces opinions, drives ongoing positive views and ultimately generates trust within the brand.

Key Takeaway: Influencers can drive positive brand perceptions. But their effectiveness is dependent on loyalty. A long-term, authentic partnership holds the most value.

Taking a position is a multi-faceted consideration.

The final consideration for trust is social issues. 2020 saw a global response to police brutality and racial discrimination within the US. Social media platforms saw #blackouttuesday, along with a wealth of statements, promises and planned changes from brands. However, providing a position should not be viewed as opportunistic, it is an unwavering prerequisite.

Consumers, influenced by tone and individuals, align themselves with brands who reflect values. A recent survey found 66% of Gen Z say that how businesses express themselves regarding Black Lives Matter will permanently influence their decision to purchase. Ben and Jerry’s represents a strong example – a clear position, supported by statements which are not one-offs but intrinsically reflect the company.

Taking a position is not a one-time thing. This must be backed up with consistency. As suggested, tone of voice underpins how consumers reflect upon your brand, and this principle extends to social activism. Simply put, making a statement to make a statement is not a good statement. Views must be backed up by continuous actions. The replication of such behaviours reflects and permeates the brand, and provides a reference point for consumers. As mentioned in my colleague Iyanu’s recent blog, the sports industry has some strong examples, such as the WNBA, and some less successful examples – acknowledging issues and successfully addressing them is a key requisite in the digital age.

Key takeaway: Acknowledging social issues is important, but this should never be an afterthought. Comments must be backed up by actions at an organisational level.

Building with trust.

Authenticity and integrity are the currency of the digital age, underpinning perceptions and driving outcomes. Ensuring a consistent tone of voice builds trust via the mere exposure effect, whilst social proof can drive influencer success. Positions on social issues also represent a key consideration, in demonstrating values and building brand trust.

At Seven League we acknowledge that building a trustworthy brand is not merely a prerequisite, it is a formality. Whether ensuring relatability to your audience through difficult periods, or driving conversions through brand affinity, trust and consistency are at the centre of our approach to strategies and management. --

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