If there's anything that customers value more than price, it's trust. At a time when consumers have to worry about their data being breached, their identities being stolen and their faith being shaken, building trust with your customers is key. Fortunately, this may be one area of competition where small businesses have a distinct advantage over their behemoth counterparts.
Building trust has always been an important business strategy. It helps with employee retention, B2B partnerships and a whole host of other business functions. But these days, building trust is about more than fostering goodwill in some theoretical sense. By at least some measures, today's consumers value trust and transparency even more than price, opting to spend more for a product when it comes from a business they can rely on, according to a study by Label Insight.
When you consider the sheer number of threats to consumer data and privacy in today's marketplace, this valuation of trust makes sense. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, more than 26.9 million consumer records were compromised, according to the 2019 ForgeRock U.S. Consumer Data Breach Report.
Plus, it's not just data breaches that have consumers worried. It is now more important than ever to build a brand on being a "trusted partner" and backing it up with consumer-friendly practices. Once untouchable, large, out-of-touch retailers may increasingly find themselves falling out of favor with U.S. consumers because of a lack of transparency.
For small businesses, of course, this presents an opportunity. Small businesses have always thrived on a "good neighbor" business model that leverages community-based relationships and word-of-mouth marketing. Now more than ever, it's essential to earn – and keep – your customers' trust. Here are five ways you can build that trust.
It turns out, consumers do want to see how the sausage is made. Showcasing your business online, in video or on social media, gives customers a genuine perspective. While you want to keep things professional, not every photo or video has to be a picture-perfect snapshot of a carefully staged, finished product. Instead, show customers your workflow and invite them into that process.
Do you spend hours toiling away at your craft? Do you experiment with new recipes? Do you treat your team to coffee in the morning? Giving your customers a behind-the-scenes look at your business can humanize your brand and create a lasting connection with your followers. Not to mention, this also allows you to diversify the content you post on social media, which helps boost engagement and cut through the algorithms. Transparency starts with the messages you share about your business, so make sure to show your customers what is "real" about your business.
Shout out to your suppliers
Consumer trust goes deeper than the people behind the brand. It's also about the materials or ingredients used to create the final product. Your customers undeniably want to know where their product comes from and what it is made out of. That way, they can better understand the quality and value of the product.
This explains the strategy behind marketing campaigns like Kind's promise to use "ingredients you can see and pronounce" and Patagonia's commitment to causing "no unnecessary harm" to the environment. It has worked for these big brands, but it's just as important for small businesses.
As a small business owner, you likely work with a network of local or regional vendors and suppliers. Enrich your brand messaging by giving a nod to this network. If you source wood, fabric or some other material from the community, give a shout-out to your source on social media. If your ingredients are grown in your neighbor's backyard, add that information to your menu board. These tactics allow you to cross-promote your partners, but they also foster trust between your business, your products and your customers.
Engage with the community
Local businesses have a certain advantage over their big-name competitors: they are closer to the customer. As a local business owner, you aren't limited to interacting with customers only in your store. Rather, you can find your customers and make new connections all around town.
Many small and local businesses build their connection to the community through a Main Street organization. By joining a Main Street group, your business can participate in downtown revitalization projects, seasonal celebrations and buy-local campaigns. These groups make it easy to stay up-to-date with community projects, and they often offer valuable promotional opportunities for their members.
Whether you set up a booth at the local flea market, enter a float in the downtown parade or sponsor a local Little League team, your business can become more familiar with and connected to the community through regular engagement. By getting out in the community, local consumers can come to know your business as more than the billboard they pass on their commute or the shop they visited last year on Small Business Saturday. Take advantage of these additional touchpoints you have with local consumers, compared to out-of-town or online retailers. As they get to know your business throughout the community, consumers will naturally come to trust your business.
Focus on the customer experience
Trust is a two-way street. As much as you want customers to value your business, your customers want the business to value them. Customer service goes a long way to building customers' trust because it allows your business and – on an individual level – your employees to show customers that they matter.
Small businesses tend to excel at customer service, but it nonetheless bears repeating: treat customers the way you would want to be treated. Perhaps more importantly, make sure that your employees do the same. Greet customers as they come into the store, answer their questions and offer to improve their experience. Enrich the in-store experience with opportunities to demo or sample products. A positive experience will lead to repeat visits and long-lasting trust.
If your business wants to be good, it has to do good. Today's consumers trust businesses that give back. This is particularly true for millennial consumers, who grew up at a time when recycling campaigns and Giving Tuesday became mainstream. However, consumers of all ages are more inclined to support businesses that have a charitable streak.
Most savvy business owners likely know the value of giving back, but it's just as important to consider how you're going to do it. Compelling causes exist at every scale, from the neighborhood level to the international level. For most small businesses, it makes sense to give back at the local level. Finding a cause that disproportionately affects the local community, like hurricane relief, can allow local businesses to have a more visible and more meaningful impact. Ultimately, though, it's important to find a cause that fits your brand. If breast cancer runs in your family, then supporting a nationwide campaign for breast cancer research can make sense for your business. Remember the first point: it's all about staying genuine.
For many consumers, trust is the new currency. They put their money where their trust is by supporting businesses that focus on transparency and goodwill. Fortunately, small businesses are in a strategic position to earn what consumer trust has been lost by big brands. By staying true to the community and the customer, small businesses can turn consumer trust into long-lasting patronage.