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  • Jeanel Carlson

Navigating Startup Marketing: The Power of Brand Credibility

Updated: Jun 28

Building a rock-solid brand is no small feat. For technology startups with limited resources and high competition, it can feel nearly impossible to break through. So, what’s the difference between a well-established brand and a startup freshly launching from stealth? Credibility.

Credibility begets audience trust, and audience trust begets brand loyalty. How can startups build a solid strategy to increase credibility? BJ Fogg and Hsiang Tseng’s Computer Credibility white paper from Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab offers a timeless framework for understanding how credibility is built between humans and technology-driven solutions.

While this study is typically intended to help teams approach the psychology of user experience, technology development, and design, we break down how you can apply Fogg and Hsiang’s findings to your brand strategy and go-to-market planning, by focusing on how to leverage the paper’s four credibility types.

Understanding Brand Credibility: It's All About Trust

According to Fogg and Tseng, credibility is about being believable. For large companies that means a trust in the general business as it stands today. For startups, credibility translates to removing the doubts customers have about your existing value and future potential. You’re small; they need to believe you can become big (and not go out of business). 

Trustworthiness, expertise, and immediate value are the winning combo that makes customers, investors, and partners believe in you. That starts with your core team presenting as well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and experienced, and your solution as high-value. There are four credibility levers you can pull to help you reach this state.

The Four Types of Credibility: Your Startup's Game-Changer

1. Presumed Credibility: Based on general assumptions in the perceiver's mind.

Example: You’re a software developer by trade, so a prospect is more trusting of the quality of your solution, which was built to solve a problem for other software developers.

Tip: Anticipate and address assumptions proactively by crafting messages and proof points that strengthen positive and reduce negative biases for your brand, product category, and industry vertical. 

2. Reputed Credibility: Relies on third-party reports and endorsements.

Example: Your prospect wants a demo because they spoke to an existing customer who loves your product.

Tip: Seek positive reviews, testimonials, and partnerships. Third-party validation boosts your startup's credibility – create brand advocates.

3. Surface Credibility: Happens within seconds based on simple visual inspection.

Example: Your prospect clearly understands and likes your value proposition from web messaging.

Tip: Nail your first impression with great product design, website, and social presence. Prioritize clean aesthetics and clear messages that guide prospects through content with a logical progression and consistent visual branding.

4. Experienced/Earned Credibility: Rooted in first-hand user experience.

Example: Your customer renews their contract because they’ve gained value from using your product.

Tip: Deliver exceptional user experiences for lasting credibility. Positive user encounters create trust – focus on anticipating your users' needs to build a customer journey that’s frictionless and delightful.

While each of these elements touches a broad range of your business they all contribute to your brand’s reputation. Remaining thoughtful about the levers you pull to emphasize strengths in these categories cultivates your overall brand reputation. 

It’s also important to note that while each type of credibility is important, they will vary in priority depending on where you are in your startup journey. For example, whichever credibility type you feel is already strongest for your startup can help get those first customers through the door, while others can come into play later to strengthen existing customer loyalty. For example, reputed and presumed credibility helps with new prospects, while experienced credibility will be critical to keeping a customer base.

Credibility Evaluation Errors: Avoiding Pitfalls

Understanding how users evaluate credibility is crucial, but it’s important to keep in mind two critical errors that can become pitfalls for prospects evaluating your brand.

1. Gullibility Error: Users think a business/product is credible even when it's not.

Example: Customers prefer a competitor because of its design despite your solution consistently producing better results for customers.

Tip: Educate users about your product's true worth and differentiators. Highlight information quality and proof points. And ensure you’ve covered the four factors of credibility!

2. Incredulity Error: Users doubt a credible business/product.

Example: Customers mistrust your brand because of an unprofessional website, or poor key messages that don’t communicate your company’s value.

Tip: Align your product with user expectations and make a strong first impression. Prioritize your customers’ biggest paint points first and make sure you’re properly communicating how you’re addressing them.

Your Startup's Credibility Journey

For startups navigating the competitive startup landscape, embrace your brand strategy and build your go-to-market plans around the four types of credibility, sidestep common pitfalls, and watch your startup thrive.

Ready to build a brand story that lands with your customers? OakBloom Marketing specializes in crafting magnetic brands and stories that influence. Contact us here.


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