Trust-Marketing and Its Importance in the Digital Age

Updated: 30 May 2018
Trust-Marketing and Its Importance in the Digital Age

Trust is a fundamental aspect of the relationship between a business and its customers. Without trust, people won’t buy into a product or service. Trust marketing – i.e. using marketing techniques to create confidence in a brand – is integral to a business’s success online.

Dishonest practices can win short term, but long term they will fail. We’re used to dishonest marketing techniques online, e.g. clickbait and fake news.

When clickbait first appeared online, it intrigued us, and many of us willingly followed the links. But, we wised up to its false promises.  Nowadays, most of us recoil when we see a clickbait title; some still can’t resist the bait, but it leaves a bitter taste. From the business’s perspective, it’s even worse because internet users begin to associate their brand with dishonesty and eventually turn away from them completely.

With real-world marketing (as opposed to internet marketing), marketers have long since understood the importance of building trust with their audience, but we have been slow to learn those lessons online. This is foolish.

Urban et al (2002) proved the importance of trust for creating successful relationships between a business and its customers online. When people perceive a business as honest, fair, and trustworthy, it increases sales.

Buying from any business requires trust, but online, when customers have fewer opportunities for direct interaction, and therefore limited recourse if something goes wrong, trust becomes fundamental. It helps consumers assess the risk of interacting with the business (e.g. the risk of sharing sensitive information, such as bank details): the greater the trust, the lower the perceived risks, and the greater the chance of sales.

Value in the brand goes hand-in-hand with trust. Trust will disappear if the products or services offered have little value for the consumer. In other words, if you create trust, but let your customers down by delivering a poor product, you will fail to make future sales, and trust will fall.

This shows the importance of understanding who will gain value from your product or service (i.e. having a well-defined target audience, including a solid understanding of their characteristics and traits) and how to gain their trust. Understanding your customers allows you to frame your marketing in ways that elicit trust in that type of person.

Once you know who your audience is, you can begin to find ways of creating trust…but, how do you do this?


How to Elicit Trust in Online Audiences

In “The Customers Orientation-Loyalty Model”, developed by Witt and Liu at Florida State University, long-term customer loyalty occurs via rapport building. Rapport is integral in building trust; good salespeople understand this.

Rapport building is the creation of positive familiarity between a business and its customers. According to Nathalie Nahal in her fantastic book, Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, three techniques can help create rapport when producing online content (i.e. the content on your websites, blogs, social media feeds, etc.):


Here, you create content to match the characteristics of your target audience. It means showing that you are part of their culture. For example, if you have defined your target market as “young urban professionals”, you could ensure that the people who appear in your marketing campaigns are wearing smart urban fashion.

It’s about showing your audience that you understand them, that there’s an authentic connection between them and your brand.


This is similar to matching but is rooted in behaviour, rather than outward signs of group identity.

Psychologists have long since known the importance of mirroring as an excellent means for building rapport: subtly mimicking the body language of your chosen demographic helps build rapport.

With online content, where encounters aren’t face-to-face, body language isn’t particularly available (although if you create video content, it will be). Instead, you can mirror your audience through language. For instance, with young urban professionals, you could use a level of edginess in your language that characterises this demographic.


This is an excellent way to build rapport. Think about it, how do you feel about people who can make you laugh? Positive and good-natured, no doubt.

These techniques help to build rapport because they speak to people’s fundamental values and personality traits. They recognise kindred spirits and this generates feelings of “knowing” the brand. They trust because they feel they understand the brand.

Remember: you have to be authentic. It’s easy to see how marketers can exploit rapport building to attract consumers, but if the principles upon which you build rapport are fake, consumers will feel tricked. If your product cannot speak naturally to the audience, then there’s a problem with the product or with your definition of the target market.

Your product must have value for the target market or no amount of trust-building will work.

What We Hope You’ve Learned from This Blog

That both trust marketing and value are fundamental in creating viable marketing strategies for the digital age.  The first step in building trust is to create rapport, but if value isn’t fundamental to your brand, no amount of marketing will keep you in the game for long.

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