high bar

The most trusted content today is the most relevant content to consumers.  Consumers have more control than ever over what content they observe and pay attention to, so marketers need to put forth content that is both relevant and topical. A new report from Forrester Research says consumers trust “self-selected digital pull content” over any other type of content. Self-selected digital pull content refers to recommendations from friends, professional and consumer reviews, and natural search engine results. This content, which finds consumers while they’re open to it — researching products and buying — is more trusted than what the report calls “digital push content” like unsolicited brand text messages, digital ads, and emails from brands. Quite simply, people trust the content and information they have chosen to engage with most.

The findings don’t render online branding and paid advertising useless — far from it. They instead show that marketers have to adjust to new consumer demands and serve relevant content at a time when consumers are open to it, such as when actively shopping.

Forrester Research Principal Analyst, Tracy Strokes, the author of the report, sums things up:

“Today’s consumers decide where, when, and how they want to engage with brands. With multiple interconnected devices at their fingertips at any one time, these perpetually connected consumers can opt in or out of content as they choose… Marketers face a higher bar to engage consumers, who have more media options than ever before.”

Opinions from real consumers are more than twice as effective as all “digital push content.”

The study found that 46% of those surveyed trust online reviews written by other customers. As most brands now recognize, people want to read about the experiences of others with a product or service before deciding whether to try it themselves. Brands must encourage this authentic feedback by inviting customers to review products through post-purchase emails, product signage and inserts, receipts, and any other means.

Surprisingly, professional reviews from experts scored higher in trust than reviews from average consumers in this study. This is contrary to previous findings in the consumer electronics industry, which show that consumers pay attention to consumer reviews over professional reviews by more than a three-to-one margin. The differing results illustrate how important it is for brands to gather a mix of both expert and consumer reviews.

Make paid content more effective: Include consumer opinions, and focus on providing relevant information.

The biggest takeaway from the study is that people are more likely to be influenced by information that is most relevant to their current activity — the type of information they seek out on product pages and in searches — and is backed up by consumer opinions and clicks. Reviews and opinions from friends are highly relevant to people actively searching for product information. And natural search results are ordered by clickthroughs and algorithms that determine (you guessed it) relevance. Meanwhile, “push” content that finds consumers at irrelevant times is less trusted.

Together those two points reveal an obvious two-fold strategy for marketers. First, focus your ad spend on instances of relevance to the consumer — when they’re actively shopping and buying in your select category on retailer sites. Shoppers are more interested and open to ads while in this research phase than they may be elsewhere, where the content can seem irrelevant.

Second, if you can, work authentic content like reviews into your paid content strategy by including customer words in paid ads and marketing emails. Look for content in reviews, tweets, etc. that reinforces your main messages, and include it in ads.

Help shoppers find opinions from their family and friends.

The study showed that 75% of consumers turn to people in their inner circles for brand recommendations. Recognizing this, brands should make it easier for consumers to find this type of content on brand sites. Use Facebook or Twitter authentication when consumers write their review, so you can surface reviews from known people in future shopper’s networks. Encourage reviewers to post their opinions from your site to social networks where their friends can see. And let shoppers with questions publish them to social sites as well, where their friends might answer.

The Forrester research reveals quite a bit about what consumers trust when they’re looking to take on a new product or service. They give more credibility to relevant content found when they’re searching for products – especially when that content is backed up by real opinions from others like them – than to content that’s forced into irrelevant spaces not associated with buying. The findings are not an indictment against paid content, email campaigns, or ads; they’re simply a signpost for where paid marketing spend is best directed.