Hard as it may be for some brands to accept, a new survey by the Salt Lake City-based Experticity finds there is a growing mistrust on the part of consumers for brands and their advertising. And yes, this includes the fun formats, like social media.

As it happens, this finding is very hard for some brands to accept: the majority of marketers (83 percent) told survey takers that they were sure that traditional advertising is the most effective means of influencing buying decisions.

Consumers, though, told these same people the polar opposite: advertising was almost the very least trusted source; only 47 percent of consumers said that they trusted brand advertising.

People First

Instead, the majority of consumers surveyed ranked family or friends (81 percent), online reviews (76 percent) and third-party experts (70 percent) as their trusted sources when making a buying decision.

Breaking down the findings further, Experticity discovered that:

  • Websites were cited as a trusted source by 67 percent of consumers
  • Articles and news sources were cited by 63 percent
  • Videos by 63 percent
  • Online bloggers by 55 percent
  • Marketing materials by 55 percent
  • Social, by 49 percent

"Across the board, marketers are overvaluing traditional advertising and not placing nearly enough emphasis on actual people who, it turns out, are what actually impact consumers most," said Tom Stockham, CEO of Experticity. And so the findings say.

In order of most to somewhat effective, marketers believe the following categories are very important outlets to influencing purchases: advertising, public relations, content marketing, social media, retail channel programs, word of mouth programs, brand advocates, retail sales training, CRM and loyalty programs and influencer marketing.

It is almost a mirror image of the consumers' list.

Oversized Egos

Normally this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Presented with the research, marketers could make adjustments to their strategies to better reflect consumers' expectations and perceptions. Only there is one final very unfortunate finding that suggests this will not be very easy.

The survey also identified a rather distinct sense of hubris among marketers, which probably goes a long way in explaining the mismatch in perception about advertising between brands and consumers.

Marketers are highly overconfident regarding their advertising prowess, the research found. The majority of marketers (between 78 percent and 86 percent) report their company is somewhat to extremely skilled in every marketing tactic listed in the survey. Perhaps they do have the technical skills necessary to navigate the current very complex ad marketplace — but consumers are very clear in their distaste for traditional advertising, at least as an influencer of buying behavior.

No Fair Marketer Shaming

But before we devolve into marketer shaming, one should put themselves in their shoes first, Vlad Zachary, director of Omni-Channel Commerce at Upshot Commerce Software, a Salem, Mass.-based e-commerce platform provider, told CMSWire.

"Marketers put their trust in traditional advertising, because this is where most of their expertise is. In addition to the track record, the traditional advertising channels are most invested in maintaining this status quo," he said. 

At the same time consumers have unprecedented access to all kind of peer reviews, consumer reports and other easily available product information -- which marketers know of course, but probably haven't absorbed how much they now influence the consumer.

"Clearly these two trends work in opposite directions and until the marketers figure out how to participate in the open public discussion of their brands, they will face discrepancies as in the study," he concluded, adding that it won't be easy to readjust.   "One major challenge for them is to figure out how to prove the ROI on this open participation."

But once brands accept that they may not know everything there is to know about today's consumers, Experticity does have some advice.

First, the advertiser has to map its specific customer's buying journey — not the expected path that generic customers are assumed to take. 

Then it should determine who has the valued opinion in this group, a process that includes identifying everyday experts and influencers. 

Finally, the advertisers should fix a path based on the above information -- and not preconceived notions. This path should be nothing more or less than a map to provide consumers with the type of information and product access they have plainly said they want.

Using these steps, slowly brands should be able to rebuild a conversation with consumers as they consider purchases, Experticity claims. 

"Consumer trust is the most powerful asset marketers have when working to influence purchases, yet trust in traditional marketing tactics is overwhelmingly low," Stockham said. It's vital that brands engage with customers in ways that build trust instead of breaking it down."

Title image by Wojtek Witkowski.