Truth(s) in Advertising: Consumers trust friends, online opinions and branded websites

word of mouth, earned advertising

Trust. When you get right down to it, no other factor — not price, not location, not credentials — carries more weight when consumers are trying to choose between providers offering similar services and products. And that’s especially true when what they’re considering is an elective, expensive and potentially emotion-laden subject like cosmetic surgery.

So who do consumers trust? According to the latest data from Nielsen, the 3 most important sources are: recommendations from people they know (84% of respondents), branded websites (69%) and consumer opinions posted online (68%).

By comparison, other forms of brand messaging that consumers “completely or somewhat trust” included:

  • Ads on TV: 62%
  • Ads in newspapers: 61%
  • Billboards/outdoor advertising: 57%
  • Email: 56%
  • Ads in search engine results: 48%
  • Ads on social networks: 48%
  • Display ads on mobile devices: 45%
  • Online banner ads: 42%
  • Text ads on mobile phones: 37%

It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to understand why survey respondents trust recommendations from people they know more than from any other source. Word of mouth is, was and always will be the gold standard in terms of generating — and spreading — positive impressions.

What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that branded websites and online opinions from other consumers ranked 2nd and 3rd. The former underscores the importance of providing useful information, fresh content and easy navigation on your practice website; the latter, the value of maintaining a presence on the sites where consumers go to gather insights from others with the same issues and concerns.

In fact, those online opinions will only take on greater importance as more people spend more time online. As they do, they become increasingly adept at seeking out specialized information — information that people they actually know may not be able to provide — gaining  confidence through online communities and non-commercial forums, and “paying it forward” when they have insights to share.

Marketers call that sort of exposure “earned media” to differentiate it from “owned media” (e.g., your practice website) and paid media (traditional advertising) and it holds the potential to provide more bang for fewer bucks for those who make the commitment to foster it.

Consumers are looking to online media to get information about brands, says Randall Beard, global head, Advertiser Solutions at Nielsen. Earned advertising channels have empowered consumers to advocate for their favorite brands, something that shouldn’t go unnoticed by brand advertisers.

At RealSelf, we see the power of earned media, community building and provider input every day as consumers post reviews, other site visitors ask questions and doctors provide responses that build trust and encourage online consumers to visit their practice websites. These high-intent visitors represent some of a doctor’s best opportunities for conversion into new patients.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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