By Lynn Manternach / Guest Column

Trust is in short supply these days with data hacks, fake news and fact-checker sites, phishing and alternative facts. And that’s just scratching the surface.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in the institutions of business, media, government and non-profit organizations dropped three points in 2017. The good news for marketers is more people trust business than they do government or media. But you can’t take the trust of your customers for granted. Trust is fragile – it’s hard to earn and easy to lose.

When a consumer buys a brand, it’s an act of trust. When you consistently deliver on your brand promise, you complete the circle of trust. It’s really that simple. If you don’t deliver on your promise, your customer won’t feel confident with your brand, and they won’t be a customer much longer.

Trust is a critical component of brand loyalty, which is a good thing for your bottom line. According to Marketing Metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70 percent. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20 percent. Returning customers spend on average 67 percent more than first-time customers, according to research by Bain. Forrester Research shows it costs five times more to acquire new customers than is does to keep current ones.

Loyal customers are not just repeat customers who trust you enough to choose your product or company without considering other options. They will also frequently recommend your product or business to others. And that recommendation is powerful. According to Nielson Research, customers are 77 percent more likely to buy a product when learning about it from family and friends.

Trust is an important reason why recommendations are so effective. Nielsen Research shows 92 percent of consumers around the world said they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of marketing. In fact, according to McKinsey, word-of-mouth is the primary factor behind as much as 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.

Those are some mighty compelling statistics. So, what can you do to build trust and loyalty with your customers?

Listen to what your customers are saying. Open as many paths to connecting with your customers as possible. Learn how they think, feel and behave toward your brand. Talk to them. Read their comments about your brand online. Interact with them on social media. Make it easy for them to tell you what they think. Consider formal research, informal research and daily interactions to determine who your customers are and what they care about.

Use these insights to understand what it is about your product or service that brings your loyal customers back for more, and make sure those elements are consistently delivered across all brand touchpoints.

The brand experience matters. A successful marketing campaign may drive new customers through your doors, but if the brand experience doesn’t meet their expectations, they won’t return.

If what you say and why you do it don’t match, you’ve damaged trust from the beginning. Authenticity is important for ongoing relationships with customers. Without it, there is no relationship. Make sure everyone in your organization understands their role in delivering an on-brand customer experience.

Be authentic – especially when you mess up. Mistakes happen. When they do, over-deliver on fixing the error. Stay focused on meeting the needs and expectations of your customers. This is not the time to be overly corporate. Be human and real, and customers are more likely to give you another chance.

While consumer trust may be in a state of crisis across society these days, it doesn’t have to be for your brand. Stay focused on your customers and delivering on your brand promise to keep loyalty and trust on solid ground.

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. in Cedar Rapids and Le Claire. Contact her at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.