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How Consistency, Reliability, and Trust Achieve Influence Without Persuasion

November 21, 2019 0 Comments

In the traditional model of persuasive marketing, the purpose of marketing is assumed to be the achievement of short-term transactional persuasion. In the newer model of intuitive marketing, the purpose of marketing is seen as something very different: the achievement of long-term influence through deep and authentic customer relationships.

When adopting the intuitive marketing perspective, it would be a mistake for marketers to view shortcuts like mere exposure and processing fluency as final objectives of their marketing efforts. This is because the kind of positive emotional reactions these shortcuts produce is ephemeral and easily manipulated—it can even turned on and off by leveraging the sources of mere exposure or processing fluency.[1] What products and brands need to strive for is not “mere liking” based on shortcuts to immediate preference, but more enduring trust and, through trust, long-term customer loyalty and habit.

What is trust in the context of products and marketing? It is the expectation that a product will perform in the same way and provide the same benefits every time it is used or consumed.

Trust is predominantly a function of consuming. It cannot be achieved through marketing or shopping alone, but is built through a long and often circuitous process that starts with a surrender of vigilance.

Vigilance is sustained, focused attention. It is our natural response to novelty and is only surrendered through experience and learning. As consumers engage with a novel product, either directly or through simulated experience via marketing, advertising, or word of mouth, the original vigilance and heightened alertness with which they approach novelty diminishes. Novelty turns into familiarity and vigilance is replaced by a sense of predictability.

When familiar experiences are repeated and yield similar results over time, our brains begin to recognize the consistent pattern, which gets encoded into memory as a co-occurrence association—if A, then B: “if I use this product, then I get this result.” With familiarity comes processing fluency. The disfluency and cognitive effort that accompany learning something new get replaced by the fluency and cognitive ease of a well-practiced, familiar experience. With fluency comes liking, which encourages more repetition, which further enhances fluency. All these steps can occur unconsciously, and the resulting association can be retrieved by System 1, spontaneously, automatically, and effortlessly.

The combination of fluency, liking and repetition emerges into conscious awareness as a subjective feeling of positivity—what researchers call the “warm glow” of processing fluency.[2] When we become consciously aware of this feeling with regard to a product or brand, we translate it into a conscious judgment. We think of that product or brand as reliable. And reliability makes something trustworthy because reliability implies predictability, safety, consistency, and easy mental processing. Reliability is the foundation on which the mental attribution of trust is built.

How do consistency, reliability, and trust influence consumers without relying on traditional marketing practices of persuasion? One way to think of this effect is to conceptualize trust as front-loaded persuasion. Traditional persuasion is the application of intrusive marketing techniques to get consumers to do something the marketer believes they would not otherwise do. The theory behind overt persuasion is that people need to be convinced—either through a rational argument or an emotional appeal—to do what you want them to do.

The theory behind trust as a source of intuitive influence is just the opposite.

Trust is a mental encapsulation of prior experience that represents not what people need to be convinced to do, but what they want to do, combined with how they’ve already learned to do it.

Familiarity, liking, and fluency, combined with repetition, consistency, and a judgment of reliability lead to a mindset that does not require additional convincing at the moment of choice. In effect, all the persuasion required to move someone toward one choice over another is already built-in and condensed into the feeling of trust. Thus, the “choice,” when it is made, may not even feel like a choice at all, but more like a simple application of prior learning and experience. This is why trust can be such a powerful source of product and brand influence, much more powerful and much more long-lasting than immediate, transactional persuasion.

Trust is an important source of influence not only with regard to products and brands, but also with regard to the organizations that provide products and brands to the marketplace.

Trust in an organization is represented in the idea of reputation. Reputation is an important component of economic transactions that is not well captured by standard economic models of rational decision making. As advertising executive Rory Sutherland has observed, these models, which have informed traditional business and marketing strategies for over 100 years, are “trust-free, psychology-free, context-free, relationship-free and ethics-free.”[3]

When consumers have a feeling of trust toward a company, they are not only more likely to buy from its current portfolio of products and brands, but also to consider seriously new products or brands it might offer in the future. Reputation can act as a buffer against our natural resistance to novelty. Together, trust and reputation contribute to two key sources of sustained repeat business: loyalty and habit.[4]

From a consumer’s perspective, it is “rational” to buy from sellers with good reputations and avoid one-time transactions with less well-known vendors, even if the latter promise lower prices and superior products. This is especially true if there is little or no potential for repeat business beyond the current transaction. This is because consumers know intuitively that a vendor who never expects to see a buyer again has absolutely no incentive to treat that buyer fairly and offer a product that fulfills the promises of its marketing messages. As Rory Sutherland humorously points out, this is why one should never eat at a restaurant that caters only to tourists.[5]

Reliability is only one dimension of reputation that companies may want to emphasize in their product and brand marketing. Brands can also increase their ability to influence consumers nonpersuasively by developing a reputation for supporting the aspirational goals or identity needs of their consumers.

Reputation is a powerful cognitive shortcut in the minds of consumers. It is difficult to build, easy to lose, and requires constant attention and care to remain effective and credible over time.

In addition to the longer-term benefits of loyalty and habit formation, trust also provides marketers with several immediate transactional benefits. The availability of a trustworthy choice at a point of sale discourages System 2 deliberation and counter-arguing, decreases uncertainty and risk, inhibits variety seeking and search, increases willingness to try new products presented under a trustworthy brand, and vastly simplifies decision making.

This post is a slightly condensed excerpt from Intuitive Marketing: What Marketers Can Learn from Brain Science, pp. 125-130.

Image source: Blindell, Sammy. “How to Build Brand Trust.” Online at http://bit.ly/2rhF0fG.


References

[1] See Genco, Stephen. Intuitive Marketing. Intuitive Consumer Insights, 2019, Chapter 6, “Shortcuts to Consumer Preference: Mere Exposure and Processing Fluency,” pp. 97-114.

[2] Winkielman, Piotr, et al. “The hedonic marking of processing fluency: Implications for evaluative judgment.” The psychology of evaluation: Affective processes in cognition and emotion (2003): 189-217.

[3] Rory Sutherland in Forward to Samson, Alain, ed. The Behavioral Economics Guide 2014, p. xiv. Available online at http://www.behavioraleconomics.com/.

[4] Trust is different than loyalty. Trust is expecting the same results every time you use a product. Loyalty is habitually including a product in your consideration set when buying in a category. Trust is an expectation, loyalty is a behavior. Also, loyalty need not imply exclusive use of a product. Exclusive loyalty is extremely rare in actual consumer behavior. As first documented by Andrew Ehrenberg, most consumers engage in split-loyalty. They do tend to buy one brand more than others, but they regularly buy other brands as well. See Sharp, Byron. How Brands Grow. Oxford University Press, 2016. Chapter 12, “Mental and Physical Availability.”

[5] Sutherland, Rory. “Rory Sutherland knows how to save marketing.” Wired Magazine, June 3, 2013. Available online at http://bit.ly/2lOJ0gO.

About the Author:

AvatarSteve is a writer, speaker, researcher, and marketing consultant. He is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019), a study of persuasion and influence in marketing theory and practice, and co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. He is Managing Partner at Intuitive Consumer Insights, where he focuses on marketing education and consulting.

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