Report: CSR, trust and social media paramount to building brand loyalty

A recent survey revealed that PR and marketing pros must do more to retain audiences’ attention—and their pocketbooks.

Businesses must adapt better to customers’ changing needs and desires, according to a study investigating trends in consumer behavior.

A recent TollFreeForwarding.com survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers found that 75 percent think organizations can do a better job of increasing brand loyalty.

Ninety percent said no brand has gone to extraordinary measures to keep their business, but consumers aren’t looking for massive gestures. Instead, the survey’s respondents said loyalty is increased by measures such as corporate social responsibility, tactics that gain trust and excellent social media use.

Though one in four consumers said coupons and discounts can increase loyalty for a certain brand, several said an organization’s affiliations and community efforts influence their decisions to buy.

“… I feel that brands that give back, do things for the environment and choose better ingredients are worth being loyal to, and I’m willing to spend more money on their products,” one consumer said.

“… My loyalty is partially based on the fact [chosen brands] agree with some of my personal beliefs, in addition to other pragmatic aspects. Such brands/companies are well worth my continued support,” another said.

Trust and sponsored content

Trust was another common theme among the survey’s respondents, and consumers said brand managers can gain their trust in a multitude of ways—from having a transparent and relatable chief executive, to sourcing high-quality ingredients for its products and providing outstanding customer service online.

“A brand should make sure that it does what it says it will do,” one consumer said. “In other words, be honest and trustworthy.”

Sponsored content identification

Gaining consumer trust can be more difficult as brands embrace native advertising and sponsored content.

Two studies conducted by Bartosz W. Wojdynski and Nathaniel J. Evans, assistant professors at University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication , revealed that many consumers do not identify sponsored content as advertising.

Only seven percent of the subjects in the first study correctly identified the advertisements; roughly 17 percent identified advertisements in a second, eye-tracking study.

Subjects identified ads more easily when the term “sponsored content” was stated alongside the visual, video or article—and 90 percent of readers looked at the disclosure when it was in the middle of the page.

“I think that many publishers and advertisers assume that just because they put a label on the content, consumers will automatically understand that the article they’re reading is a paid advertisement,” Wojdynski said. “These results show that’s not the case at all, although the design of the disclosure label can make a big difference.”

Business Insider forecast that brands will spend more than $21 billion on native advertising by 2018. The written and visual content can erode consumers’ trust if readers feel that publishers and brands aren’t being up front about paid vs. earned promotion.

“We think that it’s important for the advertisers, as well as the publishers, to be as transparent as possible so the reader doesn’t feel they are being tricked,” Evans said. “Being forthcoming is really important.”

Social media interaction and ROI

TollFreeForwarding.com’s survey also highlighted the importance of social media in effective PR efforts.

Consumers said brands should encourage feedback, interact with consumers and consistently monitor social media profiles to provide customer service when the opportunity arises.

“When a brand quickly responds to my tweets, I am more likely to support them,” one person said.

“I think they should respond to customers in a timely fashion,” another consumer said. “Especially on social media. I have had to reach out to brands that blocked me for a well-put, courteous complaint. That’s the worst. I think all brands should have a media presence to encourage loyalty.”

Though many PR and marketing pros know that social media must play a role in building relationships with consumers, many struggle to measure and report the success of their efforts.

RELATED: Award-winning campaigns are within your grasp. Learn from those who have been there.

A recent guide published by Interactive Advertising Bureau can help with part of the struggle. The guide is a glossary of widely accepted terms and definitions for social media tactics, such as “engagement,” “conversion,” “sentiment,” “viral/earned reach” and “influencers.”

It won’t help gather numbers, but PR and marketing pros can use the guide to make sense of what the numbers mean and how they relate to their clients’ or organizations’ goals.

It can also help PR pros and marketers present the data in ways that business leaders and other social media experts can quickly comprehend.

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