Put consumer trust and branded content together, and you create a thorny field for content marketers meander around.

People naturally mistrust branded content, believing the content to be inherently biased and deceiving.

Who can blame them?

Branded content comes with the ulterior motive of promoting the brand in question. Their primary goal through and through is to publicise the brand and to benefit it one way or another.

What brands bank on is the aim of meeting business objectives and that of creating content that empowers can interweave into a nexus of mutual benefits – for the brand and for the consumers.

But no matter how much and far a particularly branded content claims to be unbiased, it cannot separate itself from the consumer’s logic-driven verdict that brand objectives compel its conception.

Content marketers and brands scarcely need to convince consumers otherwise. It needs only to prove that these two aims can coexist, without compromising integrity and quality. Before we go into that and into methods of winning your readers’ trust and hearts, let us look at some statistics, shall we?

Disclaimer: They may terrify the hopeful content marketers.

A landmine-laden field

Contently, a content marketing company, did a study in 2014 with 542 surveyees and daunted us with the following discoveries:

  • Two-thirds of surveyees felt deceived after realising a content they read was sponsored by a brand
  • 54 percent of surveyees distrust sponsored content.
  • 59 percent of surveyees believe a news site loses credibility if it runs articles sponsored by a brand.

Indeed, branded content faces the chill wind of consumer distrust.

This trickles down to a single question: Is it a tall order, or is it but a surmountable challenge that all content marketers must overcome to be considered adept in their craft?

Trust in marketing: A tall order

The short answer is, the latter.

To prevail over the challenge, what you need to do from the get-go is to present your branded content as a credible source, separate from your brand and become a distinct entity, and provide sufficient proof that it is as trustable as vendor-neutral ones.

Doing so proffers the figurative handshake to consumers that you’re prioritising their needs over the brand’s desire to profit.

If all brands had gone out on a limb to adhere to this principle, consumers would surely be less guarded.

But reality is not a bed of roses, with black sheep dishing out self-serving, inauthentic content, implicating and forcing the rest of us into an uphill battle to win consumer trust. If anything, it’s a scenario of the Prisoner’s Dilemma and is as big a threat to us as glut of content on the internet

Let us not lose hope here. We can overcome consumers’ misperceptions and win trust on this torrential sea.

Give details the due respect

A business precept that governs my practices and attitude is being attentive to details – an important virtue that I learnt through the hard way.

Early in the game, I encountered problems, which I soon realised were consequences incurred from not being meticulous enough.

You, as a content marketer, should hold this to heart, for surely you know how much a single grammatical mistake reduces the credibility of your content, how much a badly-worded tweet risks a PR nightmare, and how much a broken link on your website shatters the sales funnel you so painstakingly set in place.

Zooming out of branded content, I look at the findings compiled by Dianna Huff and KoMarketing Associates that led to the 2014 B2B Web Usability Report. In it, they mentioned elements (on your corporate website) that cause prospects to click back out due to “reduces credibility”.

The top few revolve around little details you should not overlook. Take contact information and phone number. Your whole website may flow like an enthralling, heart-tugging story, but missing contact information will turn more than half your prospects away.

A shocker, isn’t it?

But Diana Huff, author of the report, instilled sense.

In her words: “The lack of full contact information, which includes a company’s full mailing address, phone, fax, and email address, sends a vague message to the buyer: “Is this company a ‘real’ company with headquarters or office space? How do I reach a ‘live’ person? Will this company be responsive to our needs after the sale?”

Branded content is affected in the same way. Getting your facts wrong, missing out information and using insensitive words will hurt your content. By paying attention to details, you sieve out things that can jeopardise your content and threaten its credibility.

Non-biased content the key to winning consumer trust

Consumers will always incline to vendor-neutral content since, in their eyes, it is motivated no more than by the desire to educate, entertain and inform. Its monetisation comes from banner advertisements and their likes, but never directly from the content.

Little doubt this corresponds with the aforementioned statistics in which a fair number of consumers prefer intrusive banner advertisements over sponsored content; this preference boils down to distrust.

People are sceptical of paid content as they believe such content carries a hidden agenda, and for that, whatever information gleaned is at best, half-truths and distorted facts.

Changing this perception is an arduous, but not impossible, process.

Remember that brand publications aim to create content that emulates the standard, and in the case of native advertisements, the style and tone of articles on a targeted media platform, no?

To change perception, brand publication have to observe the same principles that guide well-regarded vendor-neutral publications; those from which it should never waver.

Think transparency and honesty.

Otherwise, what use will there be if their content hits a high standard and conforms to the native style but is prejudiced from its inception? Prejudiced content cannot educate as it sacrifices accuracy to shine a better light at the brand in question.

As content marketers, we must take the first step in the right direction and stick to it till consumers see our efforts and give the leap of faith.

This means your legion of content creators should not shy away from content that may hurt the field you are in, or even your company. You don’t need to be deliberate and create content that casts a bad light on your company, but when such content presents itself and one your audience deserves to know, you grit your teeth, craft and publish it.

If it’s a hot topic, you generate buzz and bring more traffic to your brand, so it’s not a complete downer.

Take Contently whose article, Study: Sponsored Content Has a Trust Problem, was where I obtained the above statistics. As a company that works with publishers and brands that create paid content, publishing the foregoing article is tantamount to cutting its own feet…but it did anyway, citing a fiduciary duty to its readers – and rightly so.

Another evidence of unbiased content being capable of building customer trust and relationship comes from a study by Dr. Glen L. Urban, a professor and former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management and who pioneered the concept Trust-based marketing.

In the study, he tested his hypothesis with a prototype website called MIT Truck Town. MIT Truck Town unbiasedly compared the performances and specifications of trucks of its brand and of competing brands.

It led to 75% of Truck Town’s visitors saying they trusted these virtual advisors (and in extension, MIT Truck Town) than the dealer who sold them their previous visitor.

Indeed it pays off to be objective in the long run, to be a beacon of trust.

But is that enough?

A well-adored voice of content

Think about this.

Scientific journals are unbiased and often peer-reviewed for additional credibility, but do they have consumers visiting them by the truckload?

Granted, their target audience is researchers and students, but the thought cavorting in your head answers the preceding question.

It’s too technical, too scientific. It’s not interesting.

Indeed, to win consumer trust, you also need to win their hearts. More accurately, consumer trust and heart works hand in hand; neglecting either, and you cut yourself short.

The same recipe lies beneath a charismatic, well-loved speaker and a popular, viral content: An affable personality and a well-adored voice – the voice here means the way and style in which someone or something communicates.

Apply this to your content by gifting it with a well-adored voice, one which barely keeps its overflowing affability in check. While others advocate uniqueness, and rightfully, I believe it takes second place to likeability. A piece of content conveyed in a unique but less-than-stellar voice will lose out to another communicated through a generic but admired one.

An old adage tunnels its way into my brain: Consumers buy from brands they adore – and only throw their weight behind branded content whose voice and personality they are fond of.

But the adage has its counterpoise – a caveat: Brands that consumers adore but do not fully trust will not secure tremendous sales success, thereby the title of this article, Trust: The piece that completes the content marketing picture.

A parting message

Many times, what should have been a masterful performance in the content marketing scene disappoints because of a lack of affability and goodwill.

Well-coordinated marketing strategies and adequate research are no-brainer, but you shouldn’t forget the simplest constituents, of which you use to forge customer relationships and trust. Learn from your predecessors’ follies and be genuine, and mark my words, your content will soar.