Can Shoppers Trust You?
These days, consumers’ B.S.-meters are finely tuned and highly sensitive. Don’t set them off.
Put down the “spec” sheet and back off the performance talk—at least for now. Although a product’s performance remains a primary driver of sales, studies show that consumers also want to buy from brands they trust. Consumers genuinely care what a brand stands for.
The numbers supporting this value-based buying behavior are significant. According to OIA’s consumer segmentation study, 38 percent of outdoor consumers report that trust in a brand influences their buying decisions. Among Achievers and Outdoor Natives—the two segments that represent core outdoor consumers—more than half (53–58%) say that having trust in a brand is highly important. Diving deeper via ConsumerVue, 43 percent of millennials; 63 percent of surfers; 60 percent of rock climbers; 56 percent of rafters; 55 percent of snow sports participants; 54 percent of skateboarders; 47 percent of campers; and 46 percent of anglers say they need to trust the brands from whom they buy gear.
The Trust Equation
As with any relationships, those between brands and consumers need two things to thrive: shared values and honesty, which are conveyed through authenticity and transparency, respectively. Embodying those traits creates an environment in which trust and emotional connection can flourish.
What is authenticity? Simply: do you mean what you say? Do your actions back up your stated values? Without sincerity, no brand will ever be authentic. Consumers can detect and reject manipulative branding a mile away.
At its most basic, transparency means you let consumers see what you do and how you do it—acknowledging pride in your strengths and humility in your opportunities for improvement.
Lip Service Won’t Cut It
Consumers have investigative capabilities at their fingertips, and they’re putting in the time and effort to vet brands. Here’s the catch: Their tolerance for jargon and hyperbole is running thin, and they’re not easily fooled. Slapping “transparent” or “authentic” on your marketing collateral won’t win any friends or influence any people.
Eric Bjorling, brand manager at Trek Bicycle, summarizes what this means to the brand. “Authenticity and transparency are vital elements to the relationship we have with the world—riders, retailers, employees, etc.,” he says. “In the end, it really comes down to whether or not you’re comfortable with who you are and what you believe in. I think that’s what people are looking for out of the brands they interact with. If you put what you believe right at the center of everything you do, and commit to it, the answers to most of your questions become pretty easy. It’s not something you can manufacture. You either have it, or you’re trying to be something you’re not.”
“If you put what you believe right at the center of everything you do, and commit to it, the answers to most of your questions become pretty easy. It’s not something you can manufacture. You either have it, or you’re trying to be something you’re not.”—Eric Bjorling, brand manager at Trek Bicycle.
Tell a Story, Don’t Spin One
Trek offers transparency through its Bike Archives, which detail information for every Trek model produced over the past 14 years. Making this information so easy to access implicitly honors a customer’s time, investment, personal sustainability efforts, and even the loving bond cyclists develop with particular bikes. Trek also capitalizes on the opportunity to enhance those bonds, and to form new ones, through stories on its YouTube channel. Videos dedicated to cycling advocacy, safety and youth engagement clearly convey the brand’s priorities.
In his keynote address at the 2015 OIA Rendezvous, Mike Stefaniak spoke about the opportunity—and the imperative—to inspire consumers through authentic storytelling. Stefaniak is a partner and chief strategy officer at Hanson Dodge, a Milwaukee-based creative agency. According to Stefaniak, consumers convey their values to the world through the brands they purchase.
Sock brand Farm To Feet puts its value story front and center in store and online. The Made in America brand communicates its commitment to domestic sourcing and manufacturing on its product hangtags and on the website home page. Within a few clicks, online shoppers have an understanding of the entire Farm to Feet supply chain, down to packaging materials and the brand’s award-winning point–of–purchase displays.
“Transparency… is key to our brand’s identity,” says David Petri, vice president of marketing for Farm To Feet. “This has resonated well with our consumers because they, too, value knowing how and where the products they purchase are made.”
To be fully transparent with customers, you first have to foster strong relationships with your supply chain, notes Petri. “Fortunately, we have been able to build solid relationships with many of our suppliers. They have allowed us to come to their facilities in order to obtain a deeper understanding of their operation. This in turn has allowed us to continually improve the communication with our consumers by providing them with real stories on the companies and the people behind Farm To Feet socks.”
In It for The Long Haul
Once you earn consumers’ trust, you have to foster it or you risk losing it. Forward-thinking brands seize the opportunity to continually engage customers on a deep level even after they’ve purchased a product.
This June, for example, Salomon will partner with Eleven Experience’s Scarp Ridge Lodge, in Crested Butte, Colo., for the Eleven Salomon Running Experience (ESRE). It’s an opportunity for a limited number of trail runners to run with and learn from Salomon’s world-class athletes and coaches.
“The idea of merging a running camp experience with Salomon athletes was borne from Salomon institutions: Advanced Week, the Athlete Summit, and Salomon Academy,” said Adam Chase, Salomon U.S. trail running brand ambassador and coach for the ESRE. “All of those events involve a shared camaraderie around testing, training and learning, but they are really about community building, and so is the Eleven Salomon Running Experience. I’m confident that, especially in such a small group setting, all the attendees will learn enough from one another that they will make life-long connections. That’s how Salomon rolls.”
The ESRE is a demonstration of Salomon’s commitment to sharing experiences with its customers that, at one time, would have been available only to elite athletes. It’s also an opportunity for consumers to develop genuine relationships with the people behind the brand. Though the number of ESRE participants is limited, the influence can be widespread because the event is a powerful proclamation of what Salomon stands for.
From Trust Comes Loyalty
Developing trust is a personal matter, yet trustworthiness has a ripple effect. Research shows that brands that invite their audience to take part in their story receive an overwhelming (78%) approval rating (MediaPost publications). Events, like the Salomon ESRE, that authentically represent the core values of a brand have the power to convert casual customers into brand loyalists and evangelists.
It’s been said that any experience that happens is authentic because…well…it happened. What truly matters is the emotional response to an experience. And just like in any relationship, the most positive emotional responses come from honest and sincere sentiments. Transparency and authenticity aren’t buzzwords or jargon. They are two of the most compelling reasons new and existing customers will align with your brand.