4 Ways to Build Trust and Humanize Your Brand

Posted by MackenzieFogelson

Hey there Mozzers. This is a collaborative post between myself and a good friend of mine, Mathew Sweezey. Sweezey is the head of B2B Marketing Thought Leadership at Salesforce.com and he knows a whole lot about marketing. We’re excited to share this post with you and look forward to your feedback in the comments below.

In 1999, AdAge released its list of 
most influential advertising campaigns of all time. At the top of the list was ‘Think Small,’ a campaign that introduced the Volkswagen Beetle to America. It was given top honors not because of its graphical juxtaposition, or its catchy copy, but rather its honest approach. It was the first major campaign to go against what the American consumer said they wanted. When Chevy was telling consumers bigger was better, Volkswagen acknowledged their shortcomings and advised consumers to, ‘Think Small.’

When a brand is able to make a sincere connection with a consumer, something incredibly powerful happens. Beyond mere fleeting impact, that moment of connection provides a foundation for long-term advocacy, loyalty, and a sustainable bottom line.

The average consumer in today’s market is exposed to more than 5,000 advertising messages per day, wields more computing power in their hand than NASA had to land a man on the moon, and can make a decision about your website in 1/20 of a second. Consumers are overwhelmed with images, and sales pitches and desire a more emotional connection from the companies they support. With this amount of noise, and such fickle consumers, companies who are able to genuinely connect with their customers and community of supporters will have a strategic advantage over those who don’t.

As businesses, we should not look at marketing solely as the ability to sell things, but as the conduit for building relationships. Nourishing this conduit requires all the same steps as any relationship building: For reasons both emotional and practical, you have to build a real connection, listen and take action based on what you hear, prioritize the relationship itself, and deliver on the promises you make.


1. Build an emotional connection

Being authentic and genuine isn’t something that companies can fake. Consumers are smart, and they expect a lot from the brands they choose to support. More than a great product or service, it’s the 
passion and cause at the core of the company that builds this much deeper emotional connection between the brand and the customer. All of which can be fostered through personal, meaningful, and relevant content.

Always does a pretty incredible job of this in their #LikeaGirl campaign.

At the heart of this video is a powerful topic that attracts the attention of girls (and women) everywhere: the confidence that girls possess dramatically declines during puberty.

Always is on a mission to “champion girls’ confidence.” This is a cause that anyone who watches this video can be inspired to change, but certainly the target is girls and women all over the world.

What’s so captivating about the video is that
Always uses the authenticity of story and the transparency of a behind-the-scenes video shoot to build a powerful, emotional association with their brand. An approach that wouldn’t work if Always was taking up this cause just for the numbers on social. Because all of the people in the video are genuinely invested, the message is delivered with conviction not only from the director but also the young adults who are featured in the commercial; they all believe it, too.

What’s great about campaigns like #LikeaGirl, and others like this that Always supports, is that Always isn’t solely focusing their content on promoting their products. They’re supplementing self-promotional efforts with real causes, revealing their sympathy and sensitivity to things that are important to their customers. If they’re this compassionate on the sociological side, and they actually live up to these expectations when their customers are using their products, the relationship will be easily formed, and the deep, emotional connection to their brand will be built.

Making a connection with personality

What if you don’t have a universal cause like girls’ confidence or a large budget to work with? You can build an authentic and emotional connection with your customers and community even when doing simple things like administering a survey.

In order to improve their video hosting product, Wistia created a “Take a Survey” video, featuring their entire company actually doing the Hustle, in order to collect useful feedback. Remember, Wisita is only a fun brand because they choose to be. The video hosting industry is not a sexy, or an exciting one, however they used their content to show off their personality to build a connection with their customers. 

What Do You Want to Learn from Wistia? | Wistia at Work

Rather than going with the generic (and more expensive) gift card or iPad raffle, they decided to use something that was genuine and aligned with their culture as an incentive to complete the survey.

This was not a stretch for Wistia. Their personality and natural brand authenticity shows through in everything they do in their marketing. The sincere enjoyment Wistia has in creating these types of videos is infectious and builds an instant, emotional connection with their audience. People loved it so much, Wistia earned their highest engagement on a survey ever. They saw this as a chance to make a connection even though they were asking you to take a survey.

For Wistia, and for companies building an emotional connection in general, it’s not about doing things like this just to market; it’s got to be part of your culture. That’s where the authentic and emotional connection really comes from. Wistia’s customers know that they genuinely care about what they think and they’d do anything, even dance The Hustle, to show their commitment to the relationship. This is a bond that will help them maintain a connection with their customers long-term.

Making a connection in a boring niche

But the thing is, if your company is not in an innately creative industry, that doesn’t mean you can’t create an emotional connection with your customers. You just might have to work a little harder to figure out what will initiate that bond.

Emotional connection most certainly comes from authenticity but it also comes from a shared interest. Both Always and Wisita have a shared interest with their fans. Always sells feminine products, so supporting and championing young women is an easy fit. Wisita is a video hosting company, so educating (or asking for favors) through video is a natural place to make that connection.

In boring industries, for companies who are willing to dig a little deeper for a common interest and also use some personality, there’s just as much opportunity to forge the emotional connection. You can start by capitalizing on 
Ian Lurie’s Random Affinities to identify the possible interests of your customers. All you need is two random ideas that don’t necessarily have any connection except for a shared interest with your audience.

It’s a great way to show your customers that you have a personality and because you’re working to spark that emotional connection, you’ll have a much easier time building that relationship.

You can also forge an emotional connection by getting involved — both on and offline — in things outside your niche: joining, supporting, or sponsoring community events or causes. But again, the effort needs to be genuine, so pick a cause that you truly believe in and would support regardless of the recognition or positive regard you would earn from your customers. The passion that you feel will be both contagious and attractive to your potential audience.


2. Listen and respond with action

It’s one thing to provide the opportunity for your customers and community to give their feedback and voice their desires. It’s entirely another to show them you’ve listened by responding through action. When you truly listen to someone, you gain their trust, and more importantly, their respect.

Seamly is a company who uses surplus fabric to create unique and limited edition clothing. They take listening to a whole new level by aligning customer feedback with production. They crowdsource in order to design the next pieces in their line.

Seamly collects the feedback on their website and then begins producing the apparel.

Additionally, as Seamly addresses challenges that arise during production, they provide their audience with an opportunity to participate in making decisions that ultimately affect them.

Listening at this level will not only make a difference in Seamly’s products (and their sales), but in the relationships they have with their customers. Being human and
showing their customers that they’ve been heard will build a deeper and lasting connection with the company and their brand.

When you make great things, and you connect with your customers on this level, they love you. They write about you. They tell their friends. They do the work for you.

The thing about listening is that it’s not just about interaction. It’s about providing the opportunity for actual human people to participate in your company’s market research. Seamly is focusing on what their customers actually need rather than just following a fashion trend. They’re not designing their clothes based on what a focus group put together with an ad agency in New York. They’re not allowing the fashion world to dictate. They’re creating and detailing garments that their actual customers like.

Seamly’s approach works because they’re listening to their customers and giving them exactly what they need. That makes Seamly real to them because they’re communicating an understanding of each of their customer’s individual needs. That’s real. That’s genuine. And that’s exactly what inspires trust and loyalty.

Human responses increase sales

There’s a large online bridal retailer who ships thousands of items every day, and on occasion they make a mistake with an order. In an attempt to humanize their brand and listen to their customers (rather than just doing what they, as a retailer, would prefer), they set up a split test to determine which way of apologizing to their customers would be most effective.

To Group A, they sent a dollar gift card, and to Group B, they personally called to apologize. Once the experiment had been executed, the retailer followed up with each group of customers to ask them if they would be likely to buy from them again.

Group B, the group that received a personal phone call apology, was twice more likely to buy from them again. Because they listened, this retailer discovered that a personal, human connection — not a gift card, and not an email, but a real live human conversation — was more meaningful to their customers.

This may not be true for every company or every customer, but finding out directly from your customers what they prefer and then doing exactly that, will show them you’re listening, you care, and you’re worth their money, advocacy, and support.


3. Put the relationship ahead of conversions

In his book 
Permission Marketing, Seth Godin pioneered the idea of content marketing. Create something of value that will motivate people to provide you with an email address. The problem is, we’re competing for attention among so much noise, so earning that conversion has become increasingly difficult. There are over 80 billion business emails sent every week and over 200 millions hours spent on YouTube. Consumers have access to a lot of content, and are weary of another brand sending more emails into their already cluttered lives.

Conversions are a by-product of great relationships. Relationships built on empathy, transparency, and honesty are the ones that last and drive a lifetime of conversions.

The key to creating content that will convert is to optimize for the relationship with the consumer, not the conversion.

About a year ago, Mack Web launched a community building guide. It was our first big “product” and although it took us about 8 months to finish it, we were confident that all of our hard work was going to make a big statement about our company and brand. We thought giving it away for free — no email address and no monetary transaction required — would make the biggest statement of all.

It definitely did.

In less than 12 months, Mack Web earned nearly 6,000 guide downloads (not to mention 373 inbound links). We didn’t require anyone to provide an email address in order to download the guide, but since the guide has launched, we’ve experienced all kinds of amazing benefits including increasing our organic email subscriptions by 50%. The most common feedback we received after launching the guide was that the people reading it couldn’t believe they were giving it away for free.

Mack Web probably could have charged for our guide, but we’re confident that giving this level of content away, no strings attached, helped to make a lasting connection with our audience in the very early and formidable stages of building our brand. At some level, we’ve planted a tiny seed with 6,000 people by providing them something of value for free, ultimately by first earning their trust.

People know when you’re not being genuine and putting on a front just to get something in return. If you’re not thinking of the customer first and providing them with the things
they need, it won’t matter if you have an email address; you won’t build a connection or earn the opportunity of a relationship.

The trick Mack Web learned from giving something away without asking anything in return?

You don’t need any tricks.

Lead with integrity and put your customers ahead of your bottom line.


4. Deliver on your promises

There are undercurrents to every digital interaction you have with your customers. Every promotion, everything you say about your brand, everything you
convey about your brand is a promise. Every conversion, every time they choose to buy, download, or subscribe is an agreement. You promise to provide something of value or to care about certain things or to work toward certain goals; they promise to engage with you as a result.

But here’s the twist: each of these promise-and-deliver interactions is actually a negotiation for further, richer engagement. How you deliver on your promise dictates what happens next: do you build a relationship or do you lose a fan?

There are over 150 million blogs online and 500 million tweets per day. The content choices a person has are endless, so you have to give them a reason to engage with you – to deliver on the value you promised, the value that attracted them to you in the first place. You can’t afford to take the consumers for granted and forget that it’s a negotiation, because they certainly won’t. They are constantly bombarded by ads, by links, and by reminders that they have many, many options.

If you fail to remember this, you may be spending money only to drive people away.

In a study Sweezey conducted of over 400 B2B buyers, he found that 71% of consumers have been disappointed with the content they downloaded from a business. Of those 71%, 25% would never read content from the business again due to their disappointment.

This is, quite simply, because they really don’t have to. If you don’t care to fully listen to and empathize with their needs, to provide them the fullest, richest experience, they can easily find the relationship they are seeking elsewhere. Not surprisingly, 49% of consumers who have a bad experience with content said it had a serious effect on their trust of the brand.

A few weeks ago, I did a webinar for Piqora. There were almost 900 people who signed up for the Webinar, and because I was the presenter, Piquora offered to provide me with the email list. Immediately I told Piqora that we wouldn’t have any use for the list. I’m not overly fond of companies automatically adding me to a list I didn’t sign up for and I didn’t want to return the annoyance and drive people away from our brand, especially at first experience.

In fact, depriving our audience of choice goes explicitly against one of Mack Web’s values: human-centricity. If there’s a practice that personally annoys us, using it on others would be a pretty severe break in the promise of our own brand.

Still, it would be a shame to pass up on the opportunity to connect with these 900 people. So instead, Mack Web
asked them:

We didn’t get all 899 people who signed up for the webinar, but what we did get was 66 people who, by their own free will, felt confident about connecting with Mack Web this way. That effort was the highest signup month we’ve ever had.

The best part for us though, was getting feedback like this:

Because this is how it could have gone:

We’ve all been there. You voluntarily sign up to listen to a webinar, or download a whitepaper you’re really excited about reading. But then, immediately following, in addition to the content you wanted, you also get spammed with all the stuff you never asked for. Immediate relationship infringement.

Giving readers the opportunity to choose demonstrates respect for
their needs which makes you human. Then, all you have to do is continue delivering on the experience that your audiences expects so that you can maintain their trust ongoing.

Follow through both on- and offline

Delivering on your promise as a company needs to happen on every channel, not just your website, social, or email marketing. The experience is everything before, during, and after the interaction, and you must meet customer expectations both on and offline.

Kmart did great work humanizing their brand with the ‘Ship my Pants’ campaign of creative TV commercials, but the experience falls flat when it comes to their actual stores.

The majority of reviews of the Chicago, Illinois Kmarts fall below 3 stars. Some even as low as 2 out of 5.

Where Kmart has gone wrong is by treating their marketing and their in-store performance as separate entities. To reconcile the difference between their ads and their stories, Kmart could choose to be transparent about the subpar performance offline. They could share their plans for improvement with their customers. If their customers and community are aware that they are facing issues and trying to tackle them, rather than covering them up with a creative campaign, Kmart may earn their compassion and trust.

Everything you do as a company communicates the experience of your brand, not just your marketing copy or paid ads. 
Every touch point offers an opportunity to develop an honest relationship with the people who are coming in contact with you. Put honesty and authenticity first and you’ll provide an amazing experience with your brand.


The good news and the bad news

The good news is that all of this stuff is pretty simple. We’re all human beings. We all work with other human beings. We all know that we need to treat our customers how we would like to be treated.

The bad news is that simple is not the same thing as easy. Humanizing your brand, building trust, fostering an authentic and lasting connection with your customers is hard work. It doesn’t necessarily scale. And unless you can tap into some genuine, authentic passion of your own, the connection is going to be a whole lot harder to ignite.

The companies that can do this stuff and do it well are the ones that have, at their heart, a purpose deeper than making money. Maybe it’s something everyone can connect to like
Always advocating for girls everywhere. Maybe it’s something closer to home like providing wearable, unique clothes tailored to your customers’ needs and tastes like Seamly. Whatever your goals, your real passion and drive for that meaning beyond money will keep you going, will inspire you to relentlessly improve your products, and will ensure that your brand is memorable and desirable to your customers.

Which is why all this humanizing stuff has to start from the inside. In order for it to be successful, you have to get the whole company on board and genuinely excited about providing the full human experience to your customers. If your marketing doesn’t 
come from your core, it’s not going to forge a genuine and emotional connection with your customers, and it certainly won’t help you foster the growth of a community.

Flashy ads can help you stand out for a moment. But for the longest-lasting and most loyal customers, you don’t have to outspend or outdo everyone else. You just have to outthink them and do the simple stuff that real humans do.


Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Moz Blog

October 16, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



TechNetSource on Facebook




TechNetSource » 4 Ways to Build Trust and Humanize Your Brand