Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The medium is still the message

Some drowsy, end-of-the-day thoughts on a Nielson survey of consumers worldwide: What struck me about this survey is that a greater percentage of respondents said they trust information found on "owned media" such as company web sites than in paid advertising. So think about it: People are more likely to believe what they read on the Coca-Cola web site, for example, than what they see and hear on Coke's TV commercials -- even though the source of the information is exactly the same, Coca-Cola.

Not surprising that the media influences the reliability of the message. As the survey also shows, trust varies depending on the type of paid advertising, whether print or broadcast, or even by type of print, magazing or newspaper. Nonetheless, it should remind us, even in the age of social media, that our actual web sites are very important. Remember when people were talking about whether they could use a Facebook page to replace their web site? Facebook's constant tinkering and fluctuating privacy controls put that talk to a rest, and I always thought the issue was overblown.

I suspect one of the reasons that companies' web sites fare better than their paid ads is that the smart organizations use their web sites not just to sell but to tell a story, and to share their values -- or better yet, show those values in action. I found myself coming back to the concept of brand journalism: using the tools at your disposal (in this case, your web site) to provide your audience with value that is independent of your product or service but which builds trust in your brand.

Utility is an important concept. People can't really use advertising, per se, but they use the Internet all the time. They use it to buy shoes and schedule dinner reservations. They use to download music and surreptitiously watch the NCAA tournament at work. So even if they have conditioned themselves to be skeptical of what they read online, the medium has inherent usefulness, while much of paid advertising is found in media that are purely for entertainment. (Note the Nielson survey shows that trust in online advertising is growing.)

So utility is another key to building an effective web site. Is it useful to your audience, not just the content but the experience? One of the things that my university web team has done over the past few months has been to simplify the online form that prospective students use to request information. We're tracking submissions, before and after, and thus far the results are promising.

Bottom line, audiences are increasingly likely, simply by default, to find your web site credible. What are you doing to enhance that credibility and cultivate it to grow your brand?

1 comment:

Krista said...

Great commentary, Jonathan! I think communicators often get swept up in the trendy stuff that we forget what lies at the heart of our work--the message!