In May we did a webinar with our friends at POST called ‘Building brand loyalty in a digital age’. Reevoo founder Richard Anson sat on the panel with Jonathan Swift, (director of content, Insurance Division, Incisive Media); Lorraine Donington (head of digital user experience and content, TSB); Phoebe Hugh (co-founder & CEO, Brolly); and Darrell Sansom (managing director, AXA Business Insurance).

Nobody’s got an hour to spare, so check out our pick of the best bits. But here’s a more in-depth look at one of the points we found interesting – the importance of an open and transparent dialogue with customers.

Old-school marketing messages don't have the clout or the effectiveness they used to. - Highlight to share -

Some marketers think they’ve done their job if they’re ‘protecting’ their brand at all costs.

In a way, they’re right: building trust and loyalty in your brand is the name of the game.

But the best way to go about doing that is not to shield your brand from criticism, or strut about as though your products are perfect. They’re not. No one’s are.

Engaging in open and transparent dialogue with your customers is far more important to their continued loyalty (and a much better and cheaper way of building trust than a massive ad campaign).

Here’s why.

Trust is king, and it’s changing

As we discussed in a series of posts on the recent 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer report, recent scandals and global events caused customers to lose faith in certain institutions and voices.

Chief among those voices are the actual companies, and the employees within them.

So, who do consumers trust? Themselves.

A whopping 78% of consumers (a leap of 11% from 2015) say they trust information provided by ‘my friends and family.’ Further, 63% of consumers consider ‘a person like myself’ to be a very credible source. That’s significantly more than trust brand employees, CEOs, and marketing departments.

Today, consumers are talking to each other to find out the real truth about a brand and its products. 75% say conversations with peers affect their buying habits.

Publishing the good, bad, and ugly of UGC shows that hear your customers, you care about them, and you value them. - Highlight to share -

Old-school marketing messages don’t have the clout or the effectiveness they used to. You must court the people themselves if you want them to trust you. And that means telling the truth.

At least, it means not trying to hide it. In the age of the internet, the truth will come out, any information you sought to conceal will be discovered, and your brand will suffer a potentially irreversible hit to its customer loyalty and trust.

Lorraine Donington, Head of Digital User Experience and Content at TSB, goes a step further.

“Being transparent demonstrates that not only do you accept that your product isn’t perfect, but that you’re keen to improve it and you’re keen to listen to customers because you value them.”

How, then, can brands most effectively demonstrate transparency while still furthering their intended narrative? Enter user-generated content (UGC).

Here, there, anywhere

UGC is a powerful tool in a brand’s fight to build loyalty. Whether reviews, images, customer Q&A or otherwise, hosting UGC allows you to meet the challenge of trust head on, and fight the battle on your own terms.

Whatever strengths and weaknesses surround your product, it’s best to address them from the customer’s point of view.

Phoebe Hugh, CEO and Founder of Brolly, says it best:

“These conversations are going to occur with our without you. They can happen on social media where any rumour can spiral out of control, or you can host them yourself and have the opportunity to respond and dispel negativity.”

Negativity is not all bad, either. Bad reviews are an unrivalled way to create healthy, necessary feedback loops that allow you to keep improving your offerings.

Richard Anson, Founder of Reevoo, explains it:

“If you don’t establish feedback loops and you don’t improve, you’re creating space for newer brands to come in and feast on your inefficiencies, weaknesses, and blind spots by doing them better themselves.”

Hosting UGC – especially negative UGC – on your own site lets you use it to your advantage.

If someone disparages your brand to their friends on Facebook, there isn’t much to be done about it. However, if they leave a negative review on your website, your advantage is two-fold.

First, you learn of a deficiency you may not have previously known about. And secondly – and more importantly – it enables you to respond and show customers that you care, that you’re listening, and that they can trust you.

It’s a chance to say, “We heard what you’ve been saying , and here’s what we’re doing to make it right.”

Of course, UGC can never be fully ‘controlled,’ only harnessed. Make sure not to dam out bad reviews. Customers will grow suspicious very quickly if your brand is far more widely beloved than it should be.

Publishing the good, bad, and ugly of UGC shows that hear your customers, you care about them, and you value them. It lets you host the conversation on your own terms, it gives you the opportunity to improve your product, and – most importantly – it builds trust.

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Trust, relationships and insurance