This week, I’ve been looking at concepts of trust and how they relate to marketing. These macro-ideas, however, should be distinguished from specific concepts from Dr. Glen L. Urban, professor and former dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management.
In this concept, the theory is “based on building consumer relationships through trustworthy dialogue and unbiased information,” the relevant Wikipedia article reports. “Trust-based marketing focuses on customer advocacy techniques that assist consumers in making informed purchase decisions based on comprehensive marketplace options and equitable advice.”
The theory contends that being honest and open is the best path to building consumer trust and creating a more loyal customer base. This is said to give customers increased consumer power through Internet access to product information and competitive pricing. Companies therefore can no longer rely on traditional models of “push marketing” in which a product’s positive attributes may mask unsuitable characteristics.
Urban started out with this idea with a prototype site for General Motors called TruckTown, which provided unbiased comparisons of competing truck products. “He found that more than 75 per cent of TruckTown visitors said they trusted TruckTown more than the dealer who had sold him their last vehicle.
He expanded the idea to a site called AutoChoiceAdvisor, which, if you check the whois, you will find is owned by General Motors. That site hasn’t been active for some time, replaced by myproductadvisor.com, operated as a more independent site.
I checked out myproductadvisor.com and discovered it appears to have what would have been the AutoChoiceAdvisor engine. The site took me through a series of questions, allowing me to bias brands and other details, and eventually recommended that I purchase a new model of my current Honda Accord. (Clearly, GM doesn’t control this site now, and if it operated this way before, ever.) The site has the option of directing users for a quote to a specific dealer — here, I suppose some fees could be earned for the referral, but it certainly doesn’t press the point. There is some online advertising unobtrusively on the site, so maybe it earns a bit of revenue that way.
Online searches into “trust-based marketing” take me to a number of other articles and academic works — too many to digest in the time it takes to write a daily blog posting. These focus more on the business-to-business world, where we may find other insights.
The big challenge, in my opinion, with trust-based marketing, is that to be effective, the independent advice would truly need to be independent. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite right that GM could operate a hidden “objective” auto purchasing advice site, even if it directs people who should really purchase a Honda to the nearest Honda dealership. Yes, I suppose if this is done with integrity it would be okay, but it seems the only way this sort of site could truly earn its trust would be by declaring its provenance and business relationships.
However, there are arguments in favor of straightforward, truthful advice, even if it sends potential clients to competitors. If you really practice trust-based marketing, you’ll earn the trust fair and square by truly putting the potential clients’ interests first.