Today there is a new business currency. It can't be found at the local bank, or purchased for any price. The new commodity is trust. And while I speak of trust as a commodity it can't be bough or sold. It has to be earned. And though trust can't replace cash, its implications to a businesses success can't be ignored. Just as a profit and loss statement should be reviewed regularly, businesses today need to monitor and review how much trust they have earned in the marketplace.For many years the BBB and local chambers of commerce have been the bastions of consumer trust, and a place for consumers to go when things go wrong. A shift is underway in how businesses and consumers interact, both online and in person, and the businesses that recognize the value of building trust and dare I say "wow" with each transaction will set themselves apart from the competition.
Web 2.0 is a term that has lost some of its true meaning by being overused and abused, but its true meaning for the consumer/business relationship can't be underestimated. Blogs, social media, review sites like Yelp and more have changed the way that consumers interact with businesses. There was a time when the Yellow Pages reigned supreme. Businesses paid for the placement that would result in amount of calls they could handle. Even the early web was really not much more than a pay to play environment. Consumers only found the businesses that could afford to list their businesses on AOL or other dial up services home page. The advent of search engines began to change things, but businesses quickly adapted to gaming the search algorithms, and again it was those with the deepest pockets whose businesses got the calls. The social web has changed all of this in the consumers favor.
Now when your friend likes a business on Facebook, or provides them a review on Yelp, you are able to see their experience and rely on that to help you make a more informed decision. It really is like them putting their hand up and saying "I vouch for this business." What if 10 of your friends had tried a new restaurant and all took the time to share their experience. Would that help shape your own experience and choice to dine there? Of course it would, and this is probably already happening whether you realize it or not.
Google recognizes the long term implications of this as well, and has recently updated its terms of service to include information regarding user generated reviews and content that will show up in is advertisements. Now when you search for something online, reviews that your friends from various social networks have posted across the web will be prominently displayed. What is even more important about this phenomenon is how sticky this user generated contact is. It lasts much longer than an ad in the paper, or even the year long yellow pages ad. In fact when a consumer shares their experience online today, it has the potential to remain relevant forever.
It won't be long before most of the top search results we see online are accompanied by a user review. And why not? Testimonials and product reviews have been used for years to help elicit consumer trust. If your favorite athlete for example endorses a certain sports bar, and you happen to like going to sports bars, you might just want to try the one he is being interviewed at. Hey you might even meet him in person. Your friends reviews, and even social check ins can have the same effect. According to Pew Research over 85 percent of US adults use the internet on a regular basis, and 72 percent of those users are actively using social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
What that means to businesses is that they can't control their online message, and really shouldn't try. These consumers are more and more likely to check a businesses' online reputations before giving them a call. So even if businesses are able to reach consumers with their old fashioned "me me me" marketing (loud, obnoxious and shrill), if their online reputation is non-existent, than all they have done is primed these consumers interest in the type of product or service they offer, but they will quickly move on to a business that has built their online reputation on the foundation of consumer trust.
So how should businesses deal with this shift in the marketing environment? They used to just be able to tell consumers that they are the best, shiniest and most awesome business around." Some businesses still operate under the assumption that these pushy, look at me messages are still effective. If they are just loud enough, and shiny enough they will get the call. They may still get some, but this is becoming an ever more expensive way to reach consumers.
Businesses should instead focus on their operations as marketing. Meaning that they should be so good at what they make, do or sell, that consumers will tell their story for them. They need to focus on getting better and better every day. They should set their sights on being Best in the world at what they do. No detail should be overlooked, and providing consumers a world class experience should be the goal. Businesses that get this are giving their customers something to talk about. And more and more of them will go online to do so. These happy client experiences will build and build for the businesses that continue to execute a world class experience. Those that don't will lag behind and perhaps even fade away.
Businesses that choose to put the client experience, ahead of "bad profits" (profits that come without giving a client a world class experience, otherwise known as a bad experience), will continue to grow and thrive. Their really is no substitute for the commodity of trust. The BBB had it right all along. It all starts with trust.