Sunday, April 28, 2024

Decoding the Critical Components of Buyer Trust

B2B buyers are conditioned to view vendor-provided information with a healthy dose of skepticism, and this lack of trust can weaken the impact of all marketing efforts. Marketing alone can't create buyer trust, but the right marketing approach can make it more likely trust will develop.

Trust has always been a vital component of business relationships, but it has become a critical issue over the past several years largely because of growing concerns about the collection and use of personal information by business organizations. Trust is likely to become an even more important issue as companies increasingly use various forms of artificial intelligence.

Business Is More Trusted Than Other Societal Institutions

Recent research has shown that people trust businesses more than other societal institutions. One of the largest studies of trust is the annual "Trust Barometer" survey by the global communication firm Edelman. 

Edelman's research focuses on trust in four societal institutions - government, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and media. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer polled over 32,000 people in 28 countries. 

The 2024 survey found that survey respondents trust business organizations slightly more than NGOs and substantially more than government and media. Based on the 2024 "Trust Index" scores, business organizations are "trusted" in 15 of the 28 countries included in the survey and "distrusted" in only two countries. In the 11 remaining countries (including the U.S.), business earned a "neutral" score.

Respondents in the Edelman survey also rated business organizations as somewhat more competent than NGOs and far more competent than government and media.

On the other hand, public perceptions regarding the honesty and ethics of people working in advertising aren't great. In Gallup's 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll, 49% of the respondents rated the honesty and ethical standards of advertising practitioners as low or very low.

The Foundations of Buyer Trust

Trust can't be manufactured; it must be earned from potential buyers. While marketers can't unilaterally create buyer trust, they can take steps to create an environment that makes potential buyers more likely to extend their trust. The starting point is to understand what leads to the development of buyer trust.

In a business context, the decision to trust a prospective vendor depends on buyers' perceptions of three vendor attributes.

  • Ability - Does the prospective vendor possess the requisite knowledge, skill, and competence to perform in a way that will meet my organization's needs and expectations?
  • Integrity - Will the prospective vendor fulfill its promises? Will the vendor's actions match its words and claims? Does the vendor adhere to ethical principles that I find acceptable?
  • Benevolence - Will the prospective vendor be sufficiently concerned about my organization's welfare to put our interests at least on par with its own?
Specific Factors That Drive the Decision to Trust
The three vendor attributes just discussed provide a sound foundation for understanding the fundamental drivers of trust. However, recent research has also identified several specific factors that will influence the development of buyer trust.
A 2023 study by PwC surveyed 2,508 U.S. consumers and asked survey participants to rate the importance of several factors when deciding how much to trust a company. The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents who rated each factor as very important.

These findings are remarkably similar to the results of a 2019 survey of 2,200 U.S. adults by Morning Consult. In that research, Morning Consult asked survey participants what factors are very important when considering whether to trust a company. The following table shows the 11 factors identified by more than 50% of the survey respondents.

What is noteworthy about the findings of both surveys is that when U.S. consumers are deciding whether or how much to trust a specific company, they place the greatest importance on factors that directly impact their experience as a customer.
The findings of these surveys are also important for marketers because they reveal issues that are important to potential buyers.
Obviously, marketing alone can't ensure that buyer trust will develop, but marketers can influence buyer perceptions about ability, integrity, and benevolence, and about the issues revealed by the PwC and Morning Consult surveys through the content and messaging they produce.

Top image courtesy of Terry Johnston via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, April 21, 2024

[Research Round-Up] New Study Shows the Continuing Value of B2B Thought Leadership

Source:  Edelman and LinkedIn
(This month's Research Round-Up discusses the sixth edition of the B2B thought leadership impact study by Edelman and LinkedIn. This research has consistently provided valuable insights about the impact of thought leadership content on the perceptions and behaviors of business decision-makers.)

Edelman and LinkedIn recently published the findings of their 2024 B2B thought leadership impact study. The study involved a survey of 3,484 business leaders (all LinkedIn members) from a wide range of industries and company sizes. The survey was conducted November 30 - December 14, 2023, and included respondents from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Australia, and India.

The study defined "thought leadership" as "content that offers expertise, guidance or a unique point of view on a topic or in a field."

Some of the study results were reported by type of survey respondent. The three categories used in the study were: 

  • B2B Decision-Makers - "Company executives who consume thought leadership and are involved in making final decisions on their company's choice of professional service providers or products."
  • C-Suite Executives - "Company owners, partners and founders who consume thought leadership and who have complete or partial ownership of a company, or C-Suite-level executives with responsibility for a business function."
  • Producers of Thought Leadership - "Managers (and higher) who both consume thought leadership and work for an organization that produces free thought leadership."
Here's a recap of some of the study's major findings.
As with previous editions of the study, the researchers asked survey participants about their consumption and overall view of thought leadership content.
  • 52% of B2B Decision-Makers and 54% of C-Suite Executives said they spend (on average) an hour or more per week reading thought leadership content.
  • 73% of B2B Decision-Makers said an organization's thought leadership content is more trustworthy than its other marketing materials for assessing the organization's capabilities and competencies.
  • 48% of B2B Decision-Makers said the overall quality of the thought leadership content they read is good, but only 15% said it is very good or excellent.
Thought Leadership and Out-of-Market Buyers
A major theme of this study is the value of using thought leadership to engage potential buyers who aren't ready to buy. Findings in the 2024 study indicate that good thought leadership content can stimulate demand among out-of-market buyers by prompting them to rethink their status quo.
For example, more than 75% of B2B Decision-Makers and C-Suite Executives said thought leadership content had led them to research a product or service they hadn't previously considered, and of these respondents, 60% said thought leadership content had made them realize their organization could be missing out on a significant business opportunity.
The study also addressed the importance of providing thought leadership content to existing customers. The survey found that good thought leadership content (from a competitor) can lead many B2B buyers to question whether they should continue working with an existing supplier and realize that other suppliers had a better understanding of their challenges.
What Drives the Quality of Thought Leadership
The Edelman/LinkedIn study also asked participants about the attributes of effective thought leadership content.
Sixty-two percent of B2B Decision-Makers said that average or above average thought leadership content is produced or written by prominent or well-respected experts, and 66% said it has a unique format or style that makes it stand apart from other thought leadership content.
B2B Decision-Makers also identified three other attributes that characterize the highest quality thought leadership.
  • 55% said it is supported by strong research and data
  • 44% said it helps them better understand the challenges and opportunities their business is facing
  • 43% said it includes concrete guidance and case studies
The Takeaway
Like its predecessors, the 2024 Edelman/LinkedIn B2B thought leadership impact study provides marketers important insights into the impact of thought leadership on the perceptions and behaviors of B2B buyers. It also confirms the continuing power and value of authoritative and well-crafted thought leadership content.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

[Book Review] Jonah Berger Unveils the Hidden Power of Words

 " Saying you 'recommend' rather than 'like' something makes people 32 percent more likely to take your suggestion."

"Adding more prepositions to a cover letter makes you 24 percent more likely to get the job."

"And saying 'is not' rather than 'isn't' when describing a product makes people pay three dollars more to get it."

Source:  HarperCollins Publishers
These are just a few examples of the power of language cited by Jonah Berger in his latest book, Magic Words:  What to Say to Get Your Way (HarperCollins Publishers, 2023).

Jonah Berger is a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the best-selling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst

He has published over 80 articles in top-tier academic journals, and his work is frequently covered in popular media outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review.

Berger is a recognized authority in the field of consumer language research, which can be generally defined as research concerned with the language used and consumed by marketplace participants such as consumers and marketers.

Recent advances in natural language processing and machine learning, together with affordable access to massive computing power, have raised interest in the field of consumer language research and made larger, more meaningful studies technologically feasible and economically practical.

Most marketers recognize that effective content is essential for marketing success. However, marketers don't always realize that minor changes in the specific words they use can have a major impact on content effectiveness. Magic Words is a worthwhile read because it raises marketer awareness of this important topic. 

What's In the Book

Jonah Berger spells out his rationale for writing Magic Words in the Introduction.

". . . while we spend a lot of time using language, we rarely think about the specific language we use. Sure, we might think about the ideas we want to communicate, but we think a lot less about the particular words we use to communicate them . . .

The right words, used at the right time, can change minds, engage audiences, and drive action . . .

This book uncovers the hidden science behind how language works and more important, how we can use it more effectively."

(Emphasis in original)

Berger devotes most of the book to a discussion of six categories of magic words. Specifically, he focuses on words that:

  • Activate identity and agency (Chapter 1)
  • Convey confidence (Chapter 2)
  • Ask the right questions (Chapter 3)
  • Leverage concreteness (Chapter 4)
  • Employ emotion (Chapter 5)
  • Harness similarity (and difference) (Chapter 6)
In Chapter 7 of Magic Words, Berger argues that words ". . . not only influence and affect the people who listen to or read them, they also reflect and reveal things about the person (or people) who created them." (Emphasis in original) Therefore, he contends, language science techniques can be used to detect and reveal societal beliefs and biases.
Chapter 5 of Magic Words exemplifies the kinds of insights found throughout the book. In this chapter, Berger explores why emotional language enhances engagement in most circumstances. He discusses the value of tapping into both positive and negative emotions and why it's important to move frequently between positive and negative emotions whenever possible. He also explains why creating some uncertainty can enable your content to hold attention.
My Take
Magic Words is a thought-provoking book that would be useful for anyone who needs to communicate more effectively and persuasively. The fact that just about everyone has this need at least occasionally explains the widespread appeal and popularity of the book.
Magic Words is a particularly valuable resource for people like marketers and salespeople whose professional success is largely dependent on their ability to be effective and persuasive communicators.
The book is also an easy read because Jonah Berger's writing style is engaging. He is an academic with the rare ability to make a complex topic accessible to a non-academic audience. He uses real-world examples and anecdotes throughout the book that any reader can relate to.
One of the book's most important lessons for marketers is that the "magic words" discussed in the book aren't equally magical in all circumstances. Which words will work best depends on the context in which the words are used.
In Chapter 4, for example, Berger writes that concrete words are usually more effective than generic words. Concrete language signals that you understand the specific needs of a prospect or customer, and it makes your message easier to understand and more memorable. However, Berger also writes that abstract language often works better when the goal is to convey the potential of an idea, a new product, or a new business.
In every category of the magic words he discusses, Berger points out that there are "exceptions to the rule," or more accurately, that some circumstances will call for a different, and perhaps contradictory, approach.
So, in the end, Magic Words does two things that make it a valuable read for marketers. First, it demonstrates the power of specific language choices. And second, it reinforces the over-arching principle that context should ultimately dictate the choices you make. If you're involved in creating content, Magic Words should be on your reading list.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Halos, Horns, and Content Marketing

Source:  Shutterstock

If you've ever bought or sold a house, you're probably familiar with the concept of curb appeal. Curb appeal is the visual attractiveness of a house as seen from the street, and it's what creates a potential buyer's first impression of the house. Real estate professionals know curb appeal plays a big role in determining how quickly a house will sell and what the selling price will be.

Good first impressions are also important for successful B2B marketing. Today, most potential buyers will form their first impression of your company based on the content you produce. If your content doesn't create a good first impression, potential buyers will quickly turn elsewhere, and you may not get another chance to connect with those buyers. 

In the words attributed to Will Rogers, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

When your content creates a good first impression, potential buyers are more likely to come back for more, and they will be more inclined to view the rest of your content - and your company - favorably.

Enter the Halo Effect

This inclination results from a cognitive phenomenon known as the halo effect. The American Psychological Association defines a halo effect as, "a rating bias in which a general evaluation (usually positive) of a person, or an evaluation of a person on a specific dimension, influences judgments of that person on other specific dimensions."

Put more plainly, a halo effect exists when we transfer our perceptions about one attribute of a person or an organization to other attributes of that person or organization without having a rational basis for the transfer. In other words, if we perceive that a company is good at "A," we will tend to think the company is also good at "B," even though we actually know nothing about the company's capabilities at "B." 

The halo effect was first identified by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920, and it's been widely studied since that time. Although the halo effect was first applied to the evaluation of people, we now know that halo effects influence how we evaluate inanimate objects including products, services, brands, and companies.

The most important thing to remember about the halo effect is that it magnifies the influence of first impressions beyond what would be justified on a purely rational basis.

Halos Are Everywhere

The halo effect can be found in a wide range of human judgments. For example:

  • If I meet a likable person, I will be inclined to believe he or she is also generous and ethical, even though I know nothing about the person's generosity or ethics.
  • If I have a good experience with a Honda automobile, I'll be inclined to believe I will also be happy with a Honda lawnmower, even though I know nothing about the quality of Honda lawnmowers.
  • If I find one of your company's white papers to be valuable, I'll be inclined to believe other content produced by your company is likely to be valuable. I'll also be inclined to believe your company is probably good at what it does even if I know little about your company.
Halo Effect's Evil Twin
The halo effect is most frequently discussed in the context of irrational positive evaluations, but the same cognitive mechanism can also produce irrational negative judgments.
If I attend a webinar hosted by your company and find the content to be poor, I'll be inclined to think the other content produced by your company probably isn't very good. In addition, my webinar experience may lead me to form a negative overall impression of your company.
This negative manifestation of the halo effect is called, appropriately, the horn effect
Implications for Marketing
As a B2B marketer, it's important to recognize that almost every content resource you publish has the potential to trigger (or contribute to) a halo effect or a horn effect. Therefore, one obvious lesson is that you can benefit from halo effects (and avoid horn effects) if you consistently produce content that will create a good first impression with potential buyers.
I would also argue that the potential benefits of halo effects should influence how you think about content distribution. Marketers have been debating the use of gated vs. ungated content for the past several years. While opinions vary, the conventional view is that it's appropriate to gate very-high-value content resources, while keeping other resources ungated.
I contend this is the wrong approach. Suppose you have created a content resource that is truly outstanding, one that is likely to make a good impression on potential buyers. In that case, you should want that resource to reach (and be consumed by) as many potential buyers as possible. The last thing you want is to put any hurdles between your content resource and your target audience.
If a potential buyer is impressed with your content, he or she is likely to seek out other content you've produced. And when the potential buyer is ready to begin an active buying process, your company will likely be included in his or her initial consideration set of potential vendors.
The benefits of halo effects aren't always immediate, but they can be powerful.