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Content StrategyPodcast

Re-Building Trust in Your Brand with Margot Bloomstein (Appropriate, Inc.)

Re-Building Trust in Your Brand with Margot Bloomstein (Appropriate, Inc.)

How can brands build trust with an increasingly cynical audience? 

Margot Bloomstein believes you can win over any audience by creating consistent, high-quality content. But in order to cut through the noise, you need to build a clear content strategy and be vulnerable. 

As the principal of Appropriate, Inc., a Boston-based brand and content strategy consultancy, a speaker, and an author, Margot has experience partnering with a range of organizations to deliver quality messaging, including Sallie Mae, Lovehoney, Scholastic, Fidelity, Harvard University, and the American Montessori Society.

She talked to us about the nuances of building trust with increasingly distrustful audiences, prototyping in public, and focusing on consistency.

Show Topics

  • Make good on content strategy through content marketing
  • Create message architecture from a content hierarchy
  • Use the same wording as your clients
  • Nurture confidence in your audience
  • Advocate for solving problems through content
  • Respond to cynicism by building trust
  • Cut through the noise
  • Guide better decision-making
  • Prototype in public
  • Focus on consistency

Show Links

Check out Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap

Follow Margot Bloomstein on LinkedIn or Twitter

Listen to the podcast

Watch a video clip

Key Takeaways

13:42 – Make good on content strategy through content marketing

Content marketing is one important way to execute an overarching content strategy.

“Some of the misconceptions around content strategy and content marketing do a disservice to both the disciplines. I’m a big believer that content marketing is one way that we make good on content strategy. Content strategy without execution,  through maybe the form of content marketing or maybe through other vehicles, without that is purely theoretical, and we’re not in the business of theory. We’re in the business of helping people meet their needs and helping organizations meet the needs of their audiences. I think we can do that through content marketing that helps people self-educate. We can do that through better customer service content. We can do that through better interface content and content design that helps people better navigate interfaces and navigate information. I think content marketing can be one aspect of how we execute on content strategy, but it’s not the only thing.”

17:39 – Create message architecture from a content hierarchy

Conduct thorough research to understand your audience before building out your content strategy.

“I tend to focus more on brand-driven content strategy, working with organizations to figure out what are their communication goals? Who are they? Who are they not? What are the qualities they want to have, maybe more associated with a competitor? What is it that they’d like to be, in the hearts and minds of their target audience? Once we figure that out, in a hierarchy, that becomes their message architecture that we can use then to drive other decisions around content types that are most appropriate to meet their needs and to meet the needs of their target audience, the platforms on which they should appear because not all platforms and channels are right for all brands and for all audiences and then also figuring out what’s the right editorial voice to use for those different content types. How will we sustain it over multiple content creators, and how do we sustain it over time? So SEO is a part of that conversation. It’s a small part. I always use the analogy that just as design can include photography, it’s not synonymous with it. Content strategy can include copywriting, and that may include SEO, hopefully, but it’s not synonymous with it.”

19:56 – Use the same wording as your clients

Mirror the terminology your clients use when you communicate with them to demonstrate your understanding of their audience and their pain points.

“I love working with really juicy, fun retail brands, but I also love working with higher ed institutions. Sometimes I feel like I’m really working with the marketing department within the company. So there, I’m working within an organization and dealing with the culture of a team and that’s really the big thing that we need to address. In some cases, I’m working with healthcare institutions or government entities or NGOs. I think because many of them think of themselves as organizations, that’s the nomenclature that I’ve adopted as well. I would say in those cases, I can look at it and say they’re all trying to sell something. Sometimes it’s a product with a price tag on it. Sometimes it’s a new way of thinking or an idea that they want their audience to adopt. If it’s a candidate that’s running for office, they’re selling something but it’s not something you can buy in any store. Higher ed institutions don’t like to think of themselves in sales at all, but in many cases they are selling education, selling the educational experience or selling the opportunity to bring more of the kind of students that they like to produce into the world. So, I might think of it as selling, but that’s often not the language of my clients because they all look at the world through different windows and that’s okay.”

23:06 – Nurture confidence in your audience

Content professionals are uniquely positioned to help audiences build their own confidence as they teach themselves all they need to learn through valuable content marketing.

“We have the opportunity to help their audiences see themselves in different ways and I think this is probably where it bumps into content marketing. By engaging with your brand by learning all I can before I maybe a big-ticket purchase or decide to reach out to you for help or engage your services, by learning all I can I’m going to feel that much more confident when I reach out to you or when one of your salespeople reaches out to me. It’s in that building that confidence that I can start to see myself maybe as better at my job, as able to make these decisions in a much better way. I think that’s a lot of the opportunity that people in professional communications right now can embrace. Whatever kind of company you work in, whether you’re selling software, whether you’re selling durable medical goods, whether you’re in a retail space, food service space. I think if you’re in that mode of helping people self-educate and making it easier for them to move through content, you can nurture their confidence as well. I think that’s something that most audiences need now and that they can bring into other spaces.”

25:25 – Advocate for solving problems through content

The more comfortable you are identifying areas of improvement, the better prepared you are to step in and help bridge communication divides through content marketing.

“People that have enthusiasm for this work and can couple it with enthusiasm for solving problems for people are in a really good place. I think that that is the perfect mindset to bring to this work. I was having a conversation earlier today around content strategy and content design and to a degree content marketing, in public health communications, and how we’ve seen over the past couple of years how so many efforts around public health, helping people help themselves, helping people stay safe in a pandemic. So many of those efforts either fail or succeed due to the quality of messaging around them, how well we’re able to reach audiences with content that makes them feel secure and confident that they’re getting it from the right places. I think as more people become comfortable seeing problems in that kind of content or comfortable seeing problems in other types of content, as well, identifying inconsistencies that maybe made you question the quality of a resource you were using or you noticed gaps in customer service that made you feel like, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have used this company. Maybe I should be shopping elsewhere.’ You start to notice those problems. It puts you in the right position then to be looking at how can you advocate for solving them. I think if you’re interested in content strategy or maybe within another area of content or user experience design and want to move into it, I have to say that’s what brought me into content strategy from design. I saw that it was an opportunity to ask bigger questions and address bigger problems earlier in the typical project process. So much of having a seat at the table that we always talk about is getting there early enough that you can say, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing. Here’s how I think we might want to address it. What else is everyone seeing?’”

30:14 – Respond to cynicism by building trust

Audiences today may be growing more cynical but it’s our responsibility to build a deeper foundation of trust through the content we provide.

“In pretty much every industry over the past few years, we’ve seen how as the people that we’re trying to reach, the people that we’re trying to maybe push toward a purchase decision or push to engage in a certain way with our brands, are taking a little bit longer. Sales cycles have slowed down. We’ve seen how people are questioning the information that they’re getting from companies that are ostensibly experts in the things that they sell. Now, people are pushing back against it. I think anybody that is in the business of marketing should really worry about that and say, ‘If we’re losing their trust, what can we do?’ We can easily point outside to say, ‘Well, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Different things have been happening with the economy that we haven’t really seen before. A lot of other things are going on right now.’ But the fact remains that as our different audiences are becoming more cynical, as they’re losing trust, we need to have a new way to respond to that cynicism. That goes into rebuilding their confidence. So, really I was noticing these issues five, six years ago, and then over the past several years, reaching out to other organizations that I found were doing it right, were earning the trust of their audiences, seeing what they were doing, seeing the common patterns among those organizations. That’s what helped me realize the framework then that I present in trustworthy — what organizations can do to rebuild trust in their audiences, both to help people have more confidence in their ability to self-educate their ability to discern good sources of information and then radiate that trust back on the brands that help them.”

35:41 – Cut through the noise

With the democratization of content creation, a consistent publishing cadence helps the true experts stand out from the crowd and build trust with their audiences.

“When people can get their hands on so much more content, but it isn’t necessarily good content, how do the arbiters of expertise continue to say, ‘Here’s why our content is good. Here’s why we’re trustworthy.’ I think for a lot of brands in the content marketing space, it’s tougher because now they’re not just competing with the companies with which they compete. Now, they’re also competing with anybody with a review site. Some of those people are influencers and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe those are people that they can have on their side, but I don’t know that we can necessarily take it like that. The challenge then is to say, ‘How do we earn trust?’ It’s through consistency in publishing. It’s by offering the right volume of information around exposing methods, exposing a roadmap, showing our work and saying, ‘Here’s what went into the content that we’re producing now. We’re going to pull aside the curtain so you can see the process behind it as well.’ Sometimes I think also offering a degree of vulnerability around that content. I think for organizations to admit what they’re learning, how they’re improving their processes, how not everything goes perfectly to plan and how that sometimes affects the product roadmap. That can be a really humanizing experience that brings more people to not critique the brand, but to champion the brand.”

39:59 – Guide better decision-making

Good content marketing can equip audiences with knowledge and critical thinking skills, which they can leverage to make purchasing decisions but also to guide bigger life decisions.

“Marketing certainly won’t save the world. Design won’t save the world. Content won’t save the world, but it will make it more worth saving. And if we can help our audiences remember how to navigate information, tap into the skills that they maybe used to have and maybe have forgotten around evaluating the quality of a resource, and nurture that confidence to not just take things on gospel because of who said it or who published it, but rather to take their beliefs and feel comfortable with testing them with opposing viewpoints, with gathering research from other high-quality sources. I think if we can teach them that and reignite that confidence, that’s something that they can take into all other areas of their lives, where they’re making maybe more important decisions than they make on our websites.”

44:17 – Prototype in public

A crucial way to build trust with your audience is to be vulnerable, admit your shortcomings, and outline your plan to improve in public so your followers can hold you accountable.

“Maybe your first forays into vulnerability and transparency can be saying, ‘Look, you’ve gotten to know our brand over the past five, 10, 20 years. Here’s how we’ve been doing business. But the economy is changing. Our society’s changing. We want to be a part of a better way of doing business. So moving forward, we’re going to be reexamining some of our old content, maybe retesting some of our old ideas, some of our old blog posts, different recommendations. We’re going to be calling all that into account. Moving forward, we want to be more transparent. We want to embrace a better way of doing business and we want to bring you into it. So we may not be doing everything right the first time, but we’re going to prototype in public. We want our audience to be a part of this process of co-creation. If you’re here, maybe it’s because you’re a fan of a product or a fan of our brand entirely. That’s awesome. We want you to help us grow.’ That’s an approach that I have seen with companies that were coming under fire because maybe they screwed up in some way, maybe their product didn’t live up to expectations, or maybe the CEO did something incredibly boneheaded, or maybe they wanted to push more into embracing certain social issues that were important to the company and they knew they were important to their target audience.”

50:09 – Focus on consistency

During a time of global upheaval, the most impactful thing a content professional can do right now is deliver consistent, high-quality content that speaks directly to the intended audience.

“The best thing that anyone in that mode of professional communications can do right now is to look at how you can help your organization communicate in a more consistent way first. So, that might mean saying, ‘Hey, let’s, let’s hit the brakes. We shouldn’t be completely overhauling our website right now and completely overhauling our brand. Let’s give our audience something that they know and that feels familiar to them.’ I say that because when we are in a time of, as we say, unprecedented change in the pandemic, we don’t need to introduce more change. Nobody needs to see a website refresh right now. If you can be the voice for consistency, that’s fabulous. Maybe that means at a lower level too, saying, ‘Why do we still produce all these content types like we’re reinventing the wheel every time? What can we do to have maybe a more consistent, cohesive voice? Do we need to take a look at our editorial style guide? Do we maybe need an editorial style guide if we haven’t had one in the past? Let’s take a look at our editorial calendar to make sure that people always know what to expect. And create those tools if you don’t have them. Those don’t need to be big, complex things. Consistency is not a big, complex, sexy thing, but I think it’s what our audiences crave right now.”

Listen to more episodes of The Long Game podcast here

Allie Decker

Allie is co-founder and Head of Client Success at Omniscient Digital. She previously led content initiatives at HubSpot and Shopify.