Trust-based marketing in the era of fake news

Louise Shanahan

Health Copywriter | Edinburgh

I’m being harassed by a chair.

It lurks in sidebars. It tries to friend me on Facebook. It punctuates Instagram stories and slides into my DMs, urging me to rethink my hasty rejection of its mid-century modern charms.

The brochure that landed on my doormat was a little creepy though – what’s next? Will I be bundled into the back of an ad-wrapped vintage Mini as I walk down the street, and whisked off to the store itself? ‘Sit! Sit! Doesn’t this chair feel great?! Don’t you want to buy it?!’

But this is the deal. In exchange for free and unlimited social connection, we accept that brands can follow us around the web pushing their home office delights until we realise that yes, maybe we do need that chair.

As consumers, we’ve become hyper-aware of how the content in front of us (whether that’s ads, news articles or social media posts) is tweaked and targeted based on what The Algorithm thinks we’ll respond to.

Businesses, news outlets and politicians fight to be heard, and consumers don’t know what to believe. It’s hard not to feel a little manipulated.

According to Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer, we’re in a battle for truth. Content has become a weapon! [cue dramatic music].

So, if consumers equate ads with fake news, and feeds are filled with clickbait and paid social proof, how do brands stand out in a sea of content? As marketers, how do we build trust when scepticism is sky-rocketing?

Our content marketing strategies have to adapt.

It all comes down to trust-based marketing.

In The Trust Crisis, an excellent documentary from Campaign Live, Sanjay Nazerbali, Global CSO at DAN, talks about how digital marketing has “fundamentally changed the way we trust brands.”

He says we’ve moved on from “believing in the beautiful fictions of advertising, to a trust that’s built on experience.” We no longer have to believe the stories brands feed to us, we can jump on social media and verify their claims through reviews and social proof.

This shift towards a trust based on experience and peer opinions, and away from relying on what the Person in Charge tells us, is a massive opportunity for content marketing.

Rather than selling fiction, we can create an experience. We can make deeper, more meaningful and lasting connections with our audience through authentic and consistent content.

We can build communities, where our followers become fans and our customers champion our services and products. Yes, we can tailor our content to the individual, but in a way that’s personal and useful, and definitely not creepy.

Using your content creation powers for good: 4 tools for trust-based marketing

Here are four essential ingredients to help you create content that will earn the trust and attention of your ideal clients and customers: authority, authenticity, action, and access. Conveniently, and not at all accidentally, we can call them ‘the 4 As of trust-based marketing’.


First things first. If you want people to trust what you’re telling them, then you need to know what you’re talking about.

Whether your authority comes from qualifications, real-life experience, revenue or audience metrics, you need to be able to position yourself as the expert or teacher in your digital interactions.

It doesn’t matter if you have a Nobel Prize or you’re just a few steps ahead of your readers, but either way, you need to have some knowledge, insights or solutions to share.

Demonstrating authority means consistently providing the answers your customers need, in a way that is accessible and interesting. Take a look at how Quest Nutrition uses personal storytelling in their blog to teach readers about a realistic approach to fitness.

Sharing your expertise for free through your blog and other content is one of the best ways to start building that know-like-trust magic.


Unfortunately, knowing your stuff isn’t enough. We can all use Google. Trust is based on human connection and relationships – and that means letting your readers get to know you.

It’s that old saying: ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. If you go too heavy on the expertise without showing readers a glimpse of a real person they’d want to hang out with, you won’t make a mark.

You don’t need to bare all, but letting your personality shine through in your content will make people feel like they know you.

Seems easy enough for personal brands, but what about ‘faceless’ organisations? Same goes. Having a strong brand voice and personality will make your company values resonate with readers and build a community around your offer.


So you’ve shown that you’re both an expert and a real person, but what does your reader do with your content? What’s in it for them? Informative and entertaining posts may be shareable in the short term, but real value comes from helping your reader take action and get results.

This means sharing relevant insights, tips and take-aways they can actually put into practice. When it works, they’ll be back for more because they trust you. They’ll also be thinking about you long after they’ve finished reading, when they go away and start doing whatever it was you suggested.


And finally, let’s go back to what we said earlier about experience as the new foundation of trust. Actionable content is part of that – the experience of following your advice will determine whether or not they trust you. Ask for feedback on how it worked out, and get a conversation going.

Don’t just broadcast at people, let them in. Encourage them to send you DMs or comment on your posts, and always respond. Always. People love to feel heard. Make them feel part of your tribe. Not only does genuine engagement build trust, but you’ll win points with the social media algorithms too.

Access is about letting people see behind the scenes and making them part of your process. This is transparency marketing – the trust comes from the fact that people can see that you are who you say you are. There’s no ‘marketing voice’.

The key to building trust is consistency

These four tools – authority, authenticity, action and access – should be the building blocks of your trust-based marketing strategy.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Earning trust takes time and consistency. Keep showing up, keep responding, and keep providing useful content your readers can’t get anywhere else.

It’s a commitment, but once you’ve created a trusting relationship with your customers, you’ll soon see the results in your bottom line.

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