The trust factor: Why it’s the cornerstone of digital news success

Trust is essential for any relationship, including those between a customer and a brand. Without trust, there is no relationship, loyalty, or sustainable business model.

Succeeding in the digital news business requires not only acquiring new subscribers but also retaining them. Trust in the product and brand is a major factor in building a long-term relationship between the company and the customer.

Why is trust important?

Trust is essential for any relationship, including those between a customer and a brand. Without trust, there is no relationship, loyalty, or sustainable business model.

According to the Harvard Business Review, acquiring a new customer is five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Research done by Bain & Company, the inventor of the net promoter score (NPS), suggests that in the financial services, a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.

Unfortunately, media institutions are currently ranked as the least trusted globally, according to the global Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 — even lower than governments in 27 countries worldwide. The Digital News Report 2022 by the Reuters Institute confirms a similar trend, with only Finland showing an increase in trust.

News media must also tackle declining interest in news and active news avoidance, especially among younger generations. There are several reasons for declining interest in news. One is an overabundance of coverage on the same topic, such as COVID-19 or the war in Ukraine.

Moreover, news can have a negative impact on people’s moods, and there is a general overload of news. Some people feel they cannot use the news for anything. Younger audiences are less interested in directly connecting with news media, have a different attitude toward journalism, and heavily rely on social media platforms. They may also find news difficult to follow or understand, which can lead to a lack of trust.

These points mainly address content-related issues in journalism.

When discussing trust, the conversation often starts with journalistic quality. However, quality can be a difficult term in journalism, aside from quality criteria based on fundamental “laws” of journalism, such as accuracy, objectivity, truthfulness, and source transparency. The last point will be challenged with the increasing use of large language models and other AI tools in journalism.

When discussing topics, writing styles, design/layout, storytelling, formats, and other related issues, it becomes a little more complicated. The “best” story about a highly relevant topic, using the most innovative storytelling format, can still fail to meet the audience’s expectations on different levels, such as usability and ease of use, leading to a lack of interest and engagement.

Quality can, therefore, be defined as “fulfilling customers’ expectations,” rather than creating a “perfect product” in the eyes of the producer. The expectations differ from news brand to news brand, but they also differ between customer segments of a brand. A Wall Street Journal audience and its segments have different expectations and perception of “quality” than a Daily Mail, New York Times, or Guardian audience.

Apart from meeting journalistic standards and expectations, we need to look further to understand how to build trust. Several of the following factors drive brand trust.

The physical or digital product quality is a tangible factor that includes availability, stability, and speed of digital products; ease of use; and the use of state-of-the-art functionalities. Ensure your product meets customer expectations, including aspects such as usability, design, or the right storytelling format. Especially for younger generations, the traditional Web site and mobile apps with text as the main storytelling format are not always the best form of interaction.

Every additional service provided around the core product must meet the customer’s expectations too. This includes, for instance, the newsletter sign-up process, the subscription ordering and payment process, quality of hotlines, and home delivery reliability in markets where this is still a crucial part of the service offering. Subscription cancellation should also be easy, and any hurdles or deliberate difficulties can cause customers to lose trust.

Value for money is also crucial in building brand trust. Media houses must ask the right prices for their products or services. Ensure that customers perceive the pricing for products and services as fair. They should also offer an easily understandable intellectual, monetary, emotional, social, and/or personal value.

Innovation is necessary to demonstrate a company’s competence and expertise in its field. Outdated apps or Web sites that don’t match current state-of-the-art standards in functionality, usability, and design can damage a company’s trustworthiness.

Personalisation makes customers feel that your company understands their needs and expectations. Offering personalised content and recommendations can help build trust, but it should be implemented intelligently and provide additional value to customers. At the same time, it should be balanced with the “serendipity factor.”

Transparency is crucial for any company, particularly those with an important role in society, such as news media. Companies must be transparent about their values, ideals, goals, and practices, especially when it comes to AI/machine learning and the handling of native advertising.

Data privacy and protection are also increasingly problematic, and companies must be clear about how they collect, use, and protect customer data. They must provide customers with control over their data and educate them on protecting their personal information.

Shared values encompass more than just financial performance, including environmental responsibility, community involvement, employee treatment, and diversity. According to research conducted by Deloitte, 87% of Millennials believe businesses should be assessed on factors beyond financial performance. Authenticity and genuine motivation are crucial to building trust.

Greenwashing and hypocrisy won’t be well-received by audiences who are attentive to these issues.

In summary, building and maintaining brand trust is a crucial part of any business model, especially in the digital environment. Understanding the meaning of quality and trust, and extending it beyond the core product, is paramount to building a sustainable business with a loyal customer base that is willing to pay now and in the future for products.

  • Dietmar Schantin is a digital media strategist and has helped to transform the editorial and commercial operations of media brands around the world.

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