This is the final instalment of our three-part investigation into the state of consumer trust in 2016, driven by the release of Edelman’s trust barometer.

The entire series:

Part one: Meet socially driven media
Part two: The new CEOs?
Part three: The good kind of peer pressure

Part three

The good kind of peer pressure

We all know how powerful peer pressure can be – but what about when it comes to buying?

Over the last several years, there has been a significant change in how market influence is wielded, who it’s influenced by, and how companies can best position themselves to leverage it. Gone are the days when CEOs and celebrities alone drove buying behaviour. Today, the people customers trust most are themselves.

What we say goes

Edelman trust barometer

Thanks in part to shrinking trust in big, distant, authoritative institutions – largely due to the global recession and assorted scandals – customers have begun to break the old ways of accepting the opinion of so-called ‘experts’ at face value. Today, peer recommendations are the currency of influence, and the exchange rate has never been higher.

This trust and influence extends even beyond the so-called moment of truth. The modern buying journey features several ‘moments of truth’ that continue even after the purchase of the product. As Reevoo founder Richard Anson explains, perhaps the most important moment of truth is the final one: the decision by the customer to share their experience of the product.

The modern buying journey features several 'moments of truth' that continue even after the purchase of the product. - Highlight to share -

Peer-to-peer evangelism is the new currency of influence, and brands that properly position themselves via new solutions and prudent focus can capitalise on this. A product with more reviews simply does better, and brands that cultivate this discussion via reviewing systems and user-generated content demonstrate to their customers that they can be trusted, especially in a new world where ‘trust’ is essentially what the customer’s peers are saying about you in public.

Brands are beginning to put their very essence in the hands of their customers. And it’s paying off.

Edelman trust barometer

This is partially attributable to the democratising impact of digital media and the internet. Access is now greater and more egalitarian than it’s ever been, and anyone with smartphone has a voice. According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, two of the top three most consulted media sources among respondents are peer-driven and peer-influenced (web searches and social media). No longer is the power of a media voice reserved for a select few newspaper columnists and television hosts.

As a result, promoting UGC and reviews is not just advantageous for SEO optimisation (which it is), but it quite simply makes your brand more relevant in the modern market. It’s not enough to appear in a web search any more. Your product must appear, properly contextualised, and ensconced in a vibrant community of peer-to-peer recommenders and influencers. Particularly wise brands are even tweaking their search footprint so that these sections of their websites are the first to be featured.

Similarly for social media (third on the above list of most-used information sources), the very notion of truth is simply one of public opinion. People trust their friends and family, and the forum in which they interact with one another most frequently today is on social media. By prioritising your messaging in a way that honours and values consumer trust, brands can leverage a strong truth: that we trust the people we know best.

Companies need to closely cultivate, monitor and respond to not just close-knit industry opinions, but the most powerful tool of all – word of mouth.

Peer influence on business

This isn’t just fluffy, brand perception-type change. Peer-driven media like web searches and social websites are not just driving our browsing and communicating habits; more than ever before, we trust our peers to advise us on our purchasing and business decisions, as well.

Edelman trust barometer

Indeed, in the last year alone, nearly three out of five respondents reported recommending specific companies to friends and family. Yes, 59% of consumers will tell their peers, by name, “use Company X” or “avoid Company Y.”

Additionally, a full 75% of respondents – three in four – reported that conversations with peers directly influenced their buying decisions.

Edelman trust barometer

Compare that with the influence wielded by celebrities (32%) or elected officials (37%) and it becomes fairly obvious that the influencers companies need to court is among peer-to-peer influencers, not ivory tower experts.

Successfully using new influencers

So the most potent cocktail of brand influence is enthusiastic peers and trusted experts, while allowing the company itself to let its work speak for it.

Enter: Morgan Motor Company, based in Malvern, UK. Morgan produces a somewhat interesting product: a quirky, three-wheeled luxury automobile.

Despite no major advertising campaigns and extraordinarily limited marketing resources, the boutique automaker rode a wave of digital-media accolades to sales success. Online forums and social media exploded with praise for the charming, unusual automobile. An enthusiastic, vocal groundswell of peer praise brought the car to the attention of a group of trusted industry experts (beloved automotive journalists and writers), and wouldn’t you know it? The experts loved it, too.

Understanding the changing landscape of influence, trust, and credibility is absolutely vital to successful marketing in the digital age. - Highlight to share -

Suddenly, Morgan found itself the beneficiary of the ideal two-pronged modern credibility campaign – an energetic peer fan base, and a community of equally effusive experts. Taken together, Morgan’s product enjoyed the fruits of a well-run digital campaign.

And the result? Morgan (which employs just 123 people and builds only 700 cars per year across several models) has already sold 1,000 of the quirky three-wheeler, and the current waiting list for one is over a year long.

Understanding the changing landscape of influence, consumer trust and credibility is absolutely vital to successful marketing in the digital age.

By recognising that it’s people, not power, that wields influence in today’s market, you can harness consumer reviews and user-generated content to make sure that the influence is positive for your customers.

This is the final instalment of our three-part investigation into the state of consumer trust in 2016, driven by the release of Edelman’s trust barometer.

The entire series:

Part one: Meet socially driven media
Part two: The new CEOs?
Part three: The good kind of peer pressure

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The good kind of peer pressure