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Fox Quarterly Autumn 2023

Virtual Trust

Sarah Keeble, business director at VERB Brands, gives Fox Quarterly an insight into how luxury brands can build trust with affluent consumers on digital platforms

The maxim that trust is the foundation of all good relationships holds just as true for the relationship between a brand and consumer. And nowhere is that trust more important than the messy world of online, where it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of brands, marketing claims rushed out to keep up with the latest news cycle, and consumers’ growing awareness of issues surrounding data privacy and consent. To muddy the waters further, AI adds an extra level of complexity by posing a growing threat to the legitimacy of the content we see and read online. 

It is a complicated space which leaves consumers seeking signals of trust. There are, though, some techniques brands can employ when looking to establish trust with their consumers online. And because we *love* an acronym in marketing, I’ve used the word CAT to illustrate this. After all, cats, like the luxury consumer, are enigmatic and mysterious creatures whose trust is hard to earn, but the prize for all that effort is loyalty.

Consistency

Consumers love consistency and it should be at the heart of every business strategy – whether that is across product quality, brand aesthetic or customer service. Consistency is vital for customer retention and growth strategy. This is ever-more important online because of the sheer volume of content shared on digital platforms: it is estimated that there are an average of 95 million posts a day on Instagram alone. For brands truly to be heard, consumers need to connect with the brand’s content more than once, with a consistent brand approach, tone of voice, art direction and brand purpose. For example, meme accounts are well followed and engaged with because they impart a consistent tone and deliver a consistent emotive connection: humour. 

An example of this in a luxury context is Aman Hotels. The brand stands for the ultimate exclusive hospitality experience. Across all its digital-‘owned’ platforms such as the Instagram accounts for its various properties, or its email marketing, Aman is consistent in delivering elevated creative content. The brand has created a relationship with consumers who trust that the experience Aman is selling will be as memorable as the experience curated online.

By delivering consistency in your brand approach on digital platforms time and time again, the consumer will foster a sense of familiarity, and will ultimately build a level of trust in the brand.  

Authority

Building authority in your sector will, in turn, build trust. Beyond the obvious brand-building across your PR and media buys, for digital, building trust through authority sits with your SEO. Ranking first on Google and beyond gives you the seal of approval and the trust signal the consumer is looking for. Here are my four failsafe tips to build your authority through your SEO and website: 

<B>Authorship:<B> In light of AI, Chat GPT and beyond, Google and other search engines are updating algorithms to penalise what seems like AI-written content. One of the signals that search engines are looking for is across blogs, scanning for who the author is to verify authenticity. Leveraging authors could, understandably, feel off-brand, but consider brand-friendly ways around this. Look to your brand community. You may want to highlight, for example, influencer talent, a team member who has credibility to talk on the subject or a journalist who favours the brand. Authorship will not only benefit your SEO but could also strengthen the brand.        

<B>Reviews:<B> Integrating consumer reviews into your product pages will only strengthen the trust in the product you’re selling. While this may not feel right for some luxury brands, consumers are beginning to expect this from all brands – especially to offer reassurance when they’re splashing out.

health expert talking to another woman showing her a magazine
To build trust with their customers, businesses such as Echelon Health include testimonials and reviews on their website to reassure new and existing customers (Picture: Echelon Health)

<B>Domain Authority:<B> DA is a well-known SEO metric of digital influence. And it’s not going anywhere any time soon. By strengthening your domain authority through the number of credible brand mentions and links off site, your brand will be seen as more trusted and credible.

<B>Your general website presence:<B> If your site keeps crashing, or its UX is clunky, then consumers will lose trust (and patience). Invest in your user experience and make this as simple for your customer as possible. You will see a rise in digital performance as a result too.  

Transparency

A big buzzword in the world of marketing, transparency has a key role to play in how brands can build trust with consumers online. It extends right across your marketing, from your brand messaging to the transparency of how you’re handling consumer data. 

men in suits sat in front of luxury private jets on a sunny day
Businesses such as Jetcraft are transparent in their response to environmental challenges, showcasing their ambitious partnership with carbon offsetting and compliance expert, Azzera and that they have also been carbon neutral since 2022 (Picture: Jetcraft)

Concerns around data transparency are only going to intensify. With Web 3 on the horizon and a cookie-less future soon to arrive, consumers will be demanding (and expecting) far more control over their data privacy and settings with you as a business. If there are any concerns or frustrations regarding this, expect your consumer to lose trust pretty quickly. Put the right privacy foundations in place now to make sure you’re ahead of this digital shift. 

Transparency in brand messaging is simple: don’t exaggerate claims and be transparent and clear about what you’re trying to convey. Take the Danish fashion brand Ganni and its sustainability commitments of the Ganni Lab platform. The brand acknowledges that it isn’t perfect but it is trying to be as responsible as possible. This transparency has built a level of trust and, with the consistency of the messaging, Ganni has established a position of authority on the subject of fashion sustainability. 

tropical fish swimming in coral at the bottom of the ocean
Through the transparency of environmental initiatives such as their Coral Regeneration Project, Velaa Private Island has been able to raise awareness of the destruction of coral reefs, and its guests can see firsthand the efforts being made to (Picture: Velaa Private Island)

These issues matter to the online luxury consumer, not least because expectations are always higher for luxury brands. Examine how you are indexing against consistency, authority and transparency, and consider how your brand could strengthen consumer trust online. 

With over 11 years’ experience working with numerous luxury brands at VERB Brands, Performance Agency for the Luxury sector, Sarah Keeble is a cross-channel digital marketing expert. She began her career helping brands navigate the social media, influencer and creative landscape, consulting for the likes of Bugatti, Harrods and NetJets. Sarah has a deep interest in the luxury sector and leads VERB’s annual research The State of Luxe – proprietary quantitative research surveying the HNW consumer

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