Yesterday, reading this article in AdAge got me thinking about trust and friendships.  Do you trust your friends?  Specifically, do you trust your online friends or your offline friends?  I'd venture to guess that while there's overlap, the two groups aren't identical. 

Reporting on a recent trust barometer study by Edelman, AdAge asserts that we trust our friends less now than ever before.  Why is that?  I'd argue that "friends" are more loosely defined than ever before.  Put another way, I trust you if I know and interact with you in the real world, if our paths cross frequently or perhaps we live in the same city and share an occasional beer.

I'm not as willing to take on your recommendations and opinions as my own if we're simply Facebook friends or Yelp acquaintances.  We may communicate in similar ways, but we could be physically and philosophically living worlds apart.

The AdAge article also shares this insight from Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman: "the lesson for marketers is consumers have to see and hear things in five different places before they believe it."  If you're a marketer — or PR practitioner for that matter — think about where those five places might be: Facebook?  Online reviews?  A news article?  An advertisement?  Word of mouth?  We certainly have our work cut out for us.

At the same time, I've been reading the book "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely, who was able to offer some additional insight.  In his role as an economics professor at MIT, Ariely conducted experiments with presumably bright young MIT'ers in which he found that our preconceived notions have a huge impact on the choices we ultimately make.  For example, if you've heard (and you believe) that Dunkin' Donuts makes better coffee than Starbucks, you'll choose DD in a side-by-side taste test every time.  If you go into the tasting experiment believing the opposite to be true, you'll choose Starbucks.  Switch the coffee in the labeled cups, or even offer a tainted cup of joe, and you'll still choose the label of the brand you believe you should like – regardless of how terrible it might taste.

What does all this coffee talk mean to marketers?  Does word of mouth still work?  If consumers don't trust their friends, from where do they form these preconceived notions about brands of coffee?  On which five channels should we focus our marketing efforts? 

There may be a different answer for every individual brand, but the overarching lessons remain:
– Get your message in front of your customers at least five times
– Convince your customers you're the brand they want before the point of sale

How else do brand trust and preconceived preferences influence consumers?  As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments.

– Contributed by Gretchen Bender.  Follow her @gbender26