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Consumer Trust Is Evolving in the Digital Age

More than eight in 10 users trust print ads when making a purchasing decision

As the recent rise in spending on influencer marketing suggests, the methods and sources consumers use to vet products online is undergoing a significant shift.

Types of Ads that US Internet Users Trust When Making a Purchase Decision, Oct 2016 (% of respondents)

Even as some consumers place less trust in brand messages like ads, and more trust in sources like online reviews, other consumers say the opposite. This split is creating a dilemma for marketers as they seek to find the most effective, and trustworthy, ad formats and marketing tools to reach online shoppers.

One sign of the evolving nature of consumer trust is reflected in buyers’ shifting attitudes regarding what types of ads are considered most trustworthy. According to some some research, more traditional ad formats like print and TV often beat out their digital counterparts on this metric.

An October 2016 survey by MarketingSherpa found that 80% or more of US internet users trusted print ads in newspapers, magazines and TV ads when making buying choices. Digital ads fared worse. Some 39% of respondents said they trusted online banner ads, and another 39% said they trusted mobile ads.

Most Trusted Source for Accurate Product Information According to US Internet Users, by Generation, May 2016 (% of respondents in each group)

Different generations ascribe different levels of trust to various sources of information. Take for example a May 2016 survey conducted by Salesforce, which examined the most trusted sources for accurate product information by generation. While baby boomers put more trust in brands themselves than their younger peers, generations like the millennials were more favorable toward online reviewers than corporate-sponsored messages.

These somewhat contradictory conclusions seem to tie into larger consumer concerns about privacy and trust in 2016, a year that was dominated by headlines about data hacks and fake news. Though the impact may be minimal in the long term, it’s likely that marketers will have to keep a close eye on rapidly shifting consumer sentiment in the months as they look to find the most trustworthy methods of reaching online shoppers.

—Jeremy Kressmann

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