If you listen to marketers and advertisers, the key to success these days is targeting. “The right ad to the right person at the right time” is the common mantra.

Nope, says a new survey from brand expert network Experticity, the 2015 Marketing Mix Survey. The key driver in making a sale is the trust possessed by a source of product information.

Conducted by ReRez Research, the survey finds that 83 percent of marketers think advertising — online, broadcast, and print — is effective in influencing buyer decisions. But less than half of consumers — 47 percent — trust or believe advertising.

You might say, sure, traditional ads are so yesterday, and it’s all about social. Eighty-two percent of marketers think social is effective. But only 49 percent of consumers reported that they trust social media campaigns.

So, what sources of information do they trust? In short, close contacts and experts.

Seventy-two percent cited family and friends as trusted sources, the same percentage pointed to online reviews, and 61 percent said they trust third-party experts.

The survey doesn’t address a possible disconnect: that consumers are propelled by ads and social media even if they don’t trust them. The survey’s implicit assumption is that trusted sources are more credible, and that credibility is valuable in pushing purchase decisions.

Of course, if you had to trust an ad in order for it to have an effect on your decisions, political advertising would have died out long ago.

Usually, I take a pass on stories like this, where the answer to the problem raised in a report or a survey is the product/service offered by the sponsoring company. Experticity provides specialized info, support, and wholesale-priced products to experts and serious fans.

The company might provide, for instance, the inside scoop on Nike’s latest sneaker to a salesperson in a running shoe store, or details on a killer new camera from Canon for a member of a photography club. The company says it supports about 700 brands and feeds a community of nearly two million experts.

This survey is self-serving in some ways, but it also points to some interesting trends, along with a few conundrums.

For instance, the survey touts the finding that “the vast majority of marketers are out of touch with what sources consumers turn to and trust when it comes to deciding what to buy.”

Yet, the survey’s own results show that 84 percent of marketers report they do well with advertising. It’s plausible that marketers may be out of touch with what consumers trust, but one doubts they’re out of touch with their own sales results.

The survey does reinforce the idea that consumers are choosy about which sources they trust — whether or not these are the most important drivers of purchase decisions. Over time, recommendations from trusted sources can build a brand loyalty that is worth way more than any campaign.

Consumers' assessment of which channels they trust

Above: Consumers’ assessment of which channels they trust

Image Credit: Experticity

But the findings also show that marketers recognize the effectiveness of person-to-person marketing on buying decisions. Seventy-four percent said influencer marketing is effective on buying decisions, 77 percent cited retail sales training, and 78 percent pointed to brand advocacy efforts.

Marketers' assessment of channels' effectiveness

Above: Marketers’ assessment of channels’ effectiveness

Image Credit: Experticity

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the pending death of web-based ads, particularly display ads. And the reported death of linear TV ads has been going on for so many years, it probably could qualify as its own long-running TV series.

If ads are radically changing, the question is: toward which direction will they evolve? That direction could be trust.

Experticity CEO Tom Stockham — the ex-CEO of Ancestry.com and the ex-president of Ticketmaster — told me that his company never pays its experts. It only provides them with specialized info or, sometimes, wholesale pricing of products, which salespeople often get anyway.

While he declined to say that influencers who are paid to hawk a new face cream to their thousands of followers in a YouTube video are inevitably less trustworthy as people-to-person marketers, he acknowledged that “getting paid paints their enthusiasm.”

Influencer marketing firms, of course, note that influencers can choose what to endorse. It’s like when you see a celebrity on TV. You know he’s getting paid, but you assume he wouldn’t endorse the product and risk his reputation unless he genuinely liked it.

Keep an eye on the evolution of recommendation engines. Not only are they likely to become even more common and more sophisticated, they may well separate into those that are independent and trustworthy, and those that are obviously shills for product makers.

Advertising is evolving, and consumers’ choices are helping to drive that evolution. The emerging marketplace offers a variety of approaches to product info and promotion, which consumers may increasingly sort on the basis of trust.

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