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In a brave new world, trust is the most precious commodity in advertising

Ben Steel
In a brave new world, trust is the most precious commodity in advertising
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Pandemics, war, political dogfights and soaring inflation. You’re not imagining it – we’re being put through the wringer currently.

The recent instability we’ve experienced has only been exacerbated by the massive amounts of information being thrown at us every day. We’re being inundated – and when we’re trying to understand what our new future looks like, it’s important to have information we can rely on.

This is a major reason why news websites have seen surges in audience numbers lately. People need reliable and accurate information to understand the changing world around them.

There is no more room for misinformation. Not when we’ve all seen how dangerous it can be. Being able to trust the content we’re consuming is now one of the biggest differentiators in choosing which online platforms we frequent.

Trust has always been essential to advertisers, but it’s now more important, and difficult to achieve than ever. And with so many online media platforms competing for attention, it’s no wonder why customers are feeling a bit suspicious of the ads they’re seeing.

A recent global study by Outbrain and Savanta looked into the changing nature of trust, recommendations and advertising online. The research discovered that news sites are some of the most trusted online spaces, with 75% of respondents saying they trust the information they find there. That’s compared to just 54% who trust social media sites.

So while trust is harder to win, it can still be won with robust and accurate information. The more likely a website is to offer unreliable information, the more likely it will lose its audience. The said study found that 21% of people are planning to spend less time on social media in the next six months. Of that group, 36% are planning to spend that time visiting websites with editorial content.

This movement means it’s increasingly important that advertisers and marketers think more deeply about where brands appear online. Advertising needs to foster trust for both the page and the brand alike – it’s not just about ensuring the ad aligns with the general theme of the page anymore.

We can already see the effects of this shift in some major internet companies. Take Netflix and Facebook. Netflix had a widely publicised fall in subscribers for the first time in the first quarter of this year, and Facebook reported a drop in Daily Average Users in the last quarter of 2021.

These are both stalwarts of the digital space, and both are battling a content problem. Their trust exchanges are failing as their audiences no longer believe their attention (and in Netflix’s case – money) is being rewarded adequately. The situations aren’t unrelated.

In the new world, customers expect that in exchange for the attention they pay to your brand, they’ll be rewarded with helpful information they can actually use in their lives. Audiences cannot be taken for granted anymore. Any value your brand can provide needs to be established before they can expect to move customers through the purchase journey. 

So in the battle to win trust in the online arena, there are a few ways brands can ensure they’re targeting customers in the most effective and engaging way possible.

Native advertising is considered the least intrusive ad type, with only 20% of people considering it intrusive and 64% placing their trust in it. This is compared to 29% of respondents who say social feed ads are the most intrusive. People are either going online to escape or to find specific information – don’t disrupt that experience with a jarring ad.

Headlines and personalisation are also key ways to ensure you’re targeting customers in the most unobtrusive way. Most customers now prefer to see their recommendations personalised with headlines. Specifically, the research by Outbrain found that household decision-makers are significantly more likely to prefer personalised recommendations (59%) and headlines (58%) than non-decision makers.

These headlines need to be short, sharp and snappy – much like a news headline would be. They’re most effective for grabbing attention and pulling customers in to learn more about the topic.

Personalisation is also one of the best ways to achieve trust and provide a helpful experience online for younger age groups. These demographics resoundingly prefer an evolving experience unique to their preferences, with 53% of 18-24 year olds and 48% of 25-34 year olds choosing this option. To reach these groups, update your creative to highlight the products or services they’re interested in. Be smart about optimising your messaging to reflect where your customers are in their purchasing journey – if you get that wrong, you risk isolating them for good.

It may feel as if it’s all doom and gloom at the moment. But in a time of uncertainty, being trusted by your customer is invaluable – and can be the difference between your brand and your competitors.

This article is written by Ben Steel, general manager of Outbrain for SEA.

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