True Lies

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A recent Nielsen study revealed that people most trust what their friends say about stuff, and that they trust generic online consumer opinions as much as they do branded communications.

I think this has more to do with the contextual reality of the expectations than it does with any inherent trustworthiness in a particular communications medium (or lack thereof).









Media are agnostic when it comes to meaning and utility, or so this dim bulb believes. TV isn’t more or less authentic than the Internet, and information gathered from a chat room won’t inherently prove more useful than the same info copied from a roadside billboard. What differentiates trustworthy content from that which is lesser so has everything to do with, well, content — i.e. what is being communicated — and the context in which it’s being shared (i.e. the immediately obvious and beneficial use for the information).

As such, trust is based on expectations: if I know that TV ads are generally funny but reasonably devoid of motivating info, I’ll trust them to perform to those low standards (a result borne out by another Nielsen study on advertising), so it’s less distrust and more the absence of it altogether? If I usually associate texts on my phone with friends or other reasonably intimate info, and I get generic sales pitches instead, I’m going to learn to trust that channel to tell me nothing useful, too (also confirmed by the Nielsen research).

So, conversely, if I were surprised by some consistent delivery of meaning and utility via TV spots, my trust would increase, as would my appreciation of mobile marketing if it similarly improved? 

The Nielsen data seems to support such extrapolation: the most trusted "form of advertising" is a recommendation from a friend, which is something you’d expect to have merit coming from someone you know (or in response to a direct question); some of the lowest are online video and ads before movies, which are presented without regard to the who, what, where, when, or why of context. It doesn’t help that the content is often purposely pointless.

Why do "branded websites" tie "consumer opinions posted online" for trustworthiness? Similar expectations: the corporation is going to throw blah blah at me, and the aggregate conclusions of the crowd are going to trend toward some common denominator. In both cases, we get what we pay for, so to speak.

It’s marvelously intriguing information. Just think how many marketers are running away from traditional media, like newspapers or radio, because they think consumers don’t trust them anymore? An equal number of them are racing to embrace social media campaigns because they are assumed to be more trustworthy.  

Both assumptions are wrong. Why don’t we focus on making the conduct of our businessesmeaningful and useful, and then structure the marketing communications to deliver that information?

The Bulb Asks:

  • Is the best way to answer a question to wait for somebody to actually ask it?
  • If trust emerges from experience, can we improve any medium’s ranking?
  • Are consumers themselves the ultimate source of marketing-relevant content?

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