"If the only prayer you said in your life was 'Thank you,' that would suffice." —Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)
2020 has been weird. For nearly a year, the pandemic has kept people mostly sheltered in their homes. Companies have gone out of business while Amazon’s value climbed to 1.5 trillion dollars, and mobile apps have become substitutes for trips to grocery stores and restaurants.
In the United States, millions of people marched for equality, millions of people voted, and millions of people quietly slipped into poverty. As the sun rises on a mostly-remote Thanksgiving Day, many of us find ourselves in front of computer screens missing our loved ones. Yes, 2020 has been weird, it has been tough, and everybody is feeling it.
Now more than ever
“The show must go on,” as they say, and people are still clocking in every day, finding new ways to stay afloat despite the current circumstances. But the playing field has changed, and brands and consumers are adjusting their habits.
Some of us at Nutshell helped start a volunteer covid relief project called A2 Helps, and were amazed with the community engagement. “It seems like everyone wants to talk to us,” remarked our teammate Austin. “Like, give them a valid reason to engage with us and they will.” Insights like this are particularly compelling to marketers.
Much of the engagement was situational, with us being a volunteer organization, but a lot of the engagement was due to the honest and straightforward nature of our communications.
Simple acknowledgments like “hey, I’m sorry, we’re goin’ through the same stuff” got us so much further in building relationships than any formal, professional-sounding communication ever could have.
On this note, most marketers know that digital natives (or “millennials”) are notoriously selective when choosing brands, and strongly prefer to do business with brands that they trust.
The theory goes that, since these people are always connected, always on social media, and always seeing branding and advertisements, they are acutely aware of the brand ecosphere and only choose to do business with the genuine, reputable ones.
The twist is that almost everyone is a digital native now. For better or for worse, lockdowns and quarantines have rendered almost everything remote-only, including working and shopping.
So what can brands do to earn their audiences’ trust in this unprecedented digital age?
Give them a valid reason to engage with you, and they will.
How brands can be genuine with their audiences
At Nutshell, our customers are our greatest asset, and we do everything we can to support them, including offering a public resource portal, unlimited free phone support, and even, on occasion, free SEO advice from Ben Goldstein.
Every brand has its own philosophy, but at the end of the day, the companies that are successful are the ones that are sincere. Ingenuine strategies simply don’t pay off anymore.
According to a study on brand loyalty, some of the top reasons consumers trust specific brands are:
- The brand treats its consumers well
- The brand quickly addresses customer service problems
- The brand protects the privacy and security of its customers
- The brand treats its employees well
No disingenuous or cheap tactics
The hidden link AKA “check the comments section for more info.” One of the more infuriating strategies is the infamous hidden link trick. People do this on social media all the time—writing a post and finishing it with something like “check the comments for the hyperlink.”
This move is a play to score an extra click from the audience which algorithmically boosts their post’s visibility. Everyone knows this “hack,” and it shows that they’re willing to inconvenience their audience in exchange for artificial post engagement. No, thanks.
Even worse than the hidden link trick is outright clickbait. Clickbait is content that is designed solely to get the user to click a link, regardless of whether or not there’s anything compelling on the destination page.
Clickbait often uses vague and dramatic sentences to pique your interest and entice you to click out of curiosity. My personal favorite is “Doctors HATE this man—find out why...” The possibilities are endless.
Toning back the advertising
Nothing frustrates users more than being bombarded with advertisements. In web content specifically, some sites function largely off the revenue they receive for displaying ads on their sites.
What this means in 2020, with audiences more tech-savvy than ever, is that visitors will land on the site one time, get extremely annoyed, and then block the URL or leave the site.
Show some grace. Treat your audience with respect. If you’re going to turn your site into an advertising platform, that’s your business, but make sure you dial it back enough to avoid burning bridges.
When it comes to internal advertising, or advertising your own sales and promotions on your site, do it in a friendly and accommodating way. A popup or promotion feature is fine, but don’t let it subtract from the genuine experience your user is looking for.
The rule of thumb for marketers is that one advertisement is fine, banners and flashing stuff are annoying, and videos that start playing automatically with the sound on should be a crime.
Making support portals public
This is a niche tip, but it’s also an important one. If your company or product has a portal dedicated to support, it absolutely needs to be publicly available. The reason: Prospects will use this as a discreet way to learn about the product’s features, as well as the quality of your brand’s support.
If your support portal is hidden, it sends a really bad message to potential buyers. They might assume it’s hidden because:
- The company’s support is lacking
- The portal would expose the product’s numerous shortcomings
- The company lacks the resources to produce a quality portal
Being respectful of users’ time
Some brands don’t understand this concept at all, and they end up turning away potential buyers left and right. One of the biggest ways brands disrespect their users’ time is by blasting their audiences with emails, or not adhering to proper email marketing etiquette in the first place.
Digital shoppers are smart, and for that matter, so are modern email inboxes. Too many marketing emails automatically will land a brand’s outreach in the spam folder, never to be seen by human eyes again.
Brands with a more genuine approach prefer to segment their audiences and communicate accordingly. They take steps to respect their users’ inboxes, and we’d all like to imagine the question “are we being annoying?” has been brought up in numerous marketing meetings.
Making high-quality content
Some brands truly want what’s best for their audience, and it shows. There are two schools of thought when it comes to content creation, they are diametrically opposed, and the route brands take roughly boils down to whether or not they respect their potential buyers.
The bad route: Insincere brands create content that’s all about catering to search engine algorithms. The theory is that, if the content ranks in the top spots on search engines, it will get more visibility and drive more revenue.
To accomplish this as effectively as possible, brands often whip together hollow, meaningless content that is packed full of SEO keywords and publish it knowing full-well it’s not going to give a single viewer anything insightful.
The good route: Brands that truly care about their users invest lots of time and resources into creating the best possible content they can offer.
Here at Nutshell, for instance, we approach content with the idea that our users, regardless of their skill level, should be able to print our blog posts out, place them on their desks, and use them as actual guides.
There are no half-measures when it comes to high-quality content. It takes a genuine and sincere passion for the subject, combined with research and actionable insights for the users. When brands take this route, their content isn’t as producible en masse as the cheap stuff, but it has a much longer lifespan.
Users share good content with one another, they spend more time on the web page which increases the content’s SEO rank, but most importantly they begin to trust and appreciate your brand.
Leading with sincerity
With more and more consumers being selective with their trust, being able to demonstrate sincerity in your professional endeavors is more important now than ever.
Brand sincerity is important, but your personal sincerity comes first, and being able to express it effectively can improve your personal and professional affairs dramatically.
Always have gratitude
To avoid a lengthy scientific explanation, contemplating your own gratitude is important for your mental health because you’re literally thinking about things you’re happy for.
According to a series of studies by psychology professor Robert Emmons, people who actively practice gratitude:
- Have stronger immune systems
- Have higher levels of positive emotions
- Are more helpful, generous, and compassionate
- Are more outgoing
Having gratitude, and keeping it closeby during your professional endeavors, is nothing short of infectious. You’ll feel good about your interactions with people, and they’ll feel good about their interactions with you.
Social gratitude tips that go a long way in bringing out your own genuineness:
- Instead of saying “thank you,” finish the sentence: “Thank you for helping with my project, you made it so much easier.”
- Celebrate other people regularly, and mention their accomplishments.
- Listen to someone’s point of view and try to imagine what their perspective feels like.
- Tell people when you’re proud of them. (You’re already thinking it, just say it!)
- Pay attention to how you’ve grown in response to obstacles and setbacks.
Giving back to others
Actions speak louder than words, and being of service to others is the ultimate personification of sincerity. Helping other people feels good, but it’s also good for everyone.
Charity and volunteer work is important, especially for those who aren’t in love with their occupations, because it gives them something they can be proud of while still working their regular job. It’s also, first and foremost, a benefit to the community and to others.
Helping others doesn’t have to be as formal as volunteering, however. Simply being available to chat can make a big difference in the lives of others, even though it’s not a particularly huge lift. The next time someone reaches out for help, don’t shy away from a chance to go above and beyond. You might even change their life.
Treating everybody with respect
This one mostly goes without saying, but there are a few things to note, given the current digital shift. Since many actions take place in cyberspace, being disrespectful might just come back to haunt you, and nothing is more humbling than a barrage of terrible Yelp reviews.
The golden rule, treating others how you want to be treated, isn’t a tough one for most people, but it’s easy to slip up when interacting digitally. For instance, lots of “thank yous” just linger in chats, never meeting a “you’re welcome” (or “np” if you’re hip).
Be sure to be conspicuous about your respect for others. Be mindful to practice the same social graces that you would when interacting in person, especially when talking to people who don’t know you personally. It might feel cheesy, but it’ll go a long way in conveying your sincerity.
Checking in on people
Your network is comprised of important people, and they should be treated as such. It’s easy to just assume every one of your friends is doing fine 24/7, but reaching out is the only way to be sure.
Checking in with people lets them know that you care about them, but it also creates opportunities to brighten someone’s day even more. For instance, you might catch someone in the middle of a problem or big decision and be able to help them through it, a moment that they will surely appreciate.
Regularly reaching out to your friends and peers also serves to keep conversations and ideas flowing, which can lift people out of the all-too-common pandemic slumps. Engaging the social parts of our brains is a crucial part of staying mentally fit, and checking in with someone can accomplish this for both of you.