For today’s marketers, building brand trust is as is as mission-critical a task as driving leads or winning organic traffic. But, how do you build trust amongst consumers? Educational content.Our recent research into how educational content affects trust, affinity and purchase power, shows that customers who read educational content from a brand felt greater trust toward the brand and were more likely to purchase.
The clincher? That brand trust and affinity grew as time passed.
This means for marketers trying to win over today’s customers, creating educational content should be at the top of your to-do list. But, why exactly do consumers feel greater brand trust and affinity one week after reading educational content from the brand?
We couldn’t find an explanation in our marketing textbooks. So, we sat down with Nathalie Nahai, leading web psychologist and author of Webs of Influences: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, to help us get to the bottom of it.
Q: Why do you think educational content caused consumers to trust a brand, and that brand trust grew over time?
Nathalie: It’s an interesting finding. I think the first psychological concept that springs to mind is the mere-exposure effect, which is also known as the familiarity principle. It was discovered by a psychologist named Zajonc. He found that when we’re exposed to something, our familiarity with it increases, and often so too does our preference for that particular thing.
So for instance, if your customers or your participants had been exposed to the fake brand and the content when you first showed it to them, when you then asked them a week later how much trust they felt, since they’d already become more familiar with the brand their initial preference for it would likely also have gone up.
In our experiment, a week after consumers read a piece of educational content from a brand, they felt even greater brand trust.
The second thing that springs to mind is the utility of the content that you provided them. If they actually found your content useful or valuable, whether they used the information straight away or it helped them at a later point, it’s likely to have created a positive first impression.
Q: Which psychological levers are being pulled when brands create educational content for people?
Nathalie: Reciprocity is certainly one. We know that if the content is something that’s valuable and useful, people feel like they want to give something back to the brand that wrote it. It’s something that you see quite often in the ways in which people build businesses online, not just when it comes to brands, but for individuals carving out their niche.
The interesting thing with reciprocity is that you can also ask people for things upfront in certain cases before having given them very much. And that’s an interesting way of using this principle in marketing.
Additionally, there’s the matter of liking. If consumers like and trust the source of the content, they are much more likely to have a positive affinity to that brand or to the source. And typically, especially with regards to the millennial group, people assess the likability of a specific piece of content based on whether their values are reflected in the content they’re consuming.
So if a particular brand seems to be ethical, for instance by promoting almond milk as a more ethical alternative to cow’s milk, there’s an implicit assumption that the brand values animal rights or is conscious of ethical concerns. There might be some implicit associations and values at play there. People who also share those values are more likely to like the provider of the content.
So that’s certainly a few ways in which these principles can perhaps have contributed to the effects you’re seeing.
Q: In a global sense, what do we know about how affinity and how liking a brand or a person impacts behavior?
Nathalie: One of the biggest factors connected to liking is trust. So if you like a brand, and they provide a good service or product, this will increase trust. And when brand trust goes up, then purchase intention also tends to go up.
Typically, you’ll find if people trust a brand more, they’ll also be more willing to not only buy, but to spend more. So it’s not just buying more often, it might also be higher price point items that get bought.
So increased trust causes brand affinity to go up, and in turn those both positively impact purchase behavior. And the primary reason for this is that trust is something that accrues over time.
Q: If you read a piece of content and five minutes later, you’re choosing between brands, there’s a strong, immediate impact on purchase power. But later, that purchase power did go down. How could psychology explain this?
Nathalie: If someone is say, for instance, reading something about tents, they might be thinking, “Oh, okay. Well, what would I need if I went camping?”
If you offer them a convenient opportunity to purchase a product while they’re still in that mindset, it could be tents or even a related item like sleeping bags, it’ll require lower mental effort for them to purchase those things, because it’s contextually relevant to what’s on their mind in that moment.
When you compound that with the reciprocity principle, and the fact that they’ve already started creating familiarity, they’ve already created trust, purchase power gets even stronger.
If you return to ask them to purchase your product later, they’re doing something completely different, they’re not in that frame of mind — they’ve already consumed the information once, they don’t need it again. So it’s harder for them to make a purchase because it’s less contextually relevant.
At that point, I would suggest maybe giving them more information about a specific product that they’ve shown an interest in, so that you bring them back into that context and invite them back into the mindset where they are ready to buy.
Q: Do you think they are actively, consciously remembering this brand after time passes, or is it a subconscious recognition of the brand?
Nathalie: You have to be careful about generalizing across all people and situations, but with liking and familiarity, some studies suggests that we’re more likely to trust a source we’ve been exposed to even if we don’t remember having seen it.
So you could say to someone, “How much would you trust this brand? Have you ever seen it before?” And they might report a higher level of trust, while not recalling having ever seen them before.
You could say to someone, “How much would you trust this brand? Have you ever seen it before?” And they might report a higher level of trust, while not recalling having ever seen them before.
So yes, it is totally possible for people’s familiarity and trust with brands to go up, even if they don’t have any conscious recollection. However, I think it’s unlikely that people are forming strong relationships without realizing it.
After all, if there’s a brand that you actively love, that you consciously seek out, that relationship will be very strong compared to, for instance, a brand that you’ve been exposed to a few times. Where that slight subconscious preference comes into play is with brands you’re less familiar with.
Q: Content marketers are constantly trying to write valuable content so that we can help or provide a service to our audience. And we’ve always thought that plays into the reciprocity in a way that is meaningful for a consumer. Would you agree?
Nathalie: Yes, I agree. What I’ve seen online is that as people get wise to principles, tactics and the application of them. It’s really the companies that provide value that are going to see the best effects from the use of psychology in marketing.
Because essentially, psychology and psychological principles, when used well, help to facilitate a much more frictionless, fun, useful, meaningful and enjoyable interaction.
Even if a customer knows that you’re using psychological principles, so long as they’re getting value from your brand then they will still experience the interaction as something which is benefiting them overall.
That’s something I always try to drive home with brands that I’m working with, which is there’s no point using psychology if you’re just trying to coerce people into buying something that’s a bit crap, because it won’t work.