The statistics suggest brands have their work cut out for them when trying to reach consumers. Only 20 percent of Americans surveyed in June 2016 said they have confidence in newspapers, and an even smaller number (18 percent) believed in big business. Those figures were the worst ever recorded in a Gallup poll.

When journalists and broadcasters cannot keep the trust of the public, marketers face an even tougher battle in reaching consumers, let alone winning them over for the long term. Finding a way through the skepticism is the only option, and brands that demonstrate authenticity seem to be the ones best suited for the job. At &THEN 2016, this topic gets the 302 Code treatment.

The Cultural Context

Consumers – especially those in the coveted millennial demographic – no longer want to be sold. You might call it the death of marketing, but the better way to understand it is a move toward deeper relationships. If consumers interact with thousands of brands vying for their disposable income every day, they need a reason to listen.

According to a NewsCred study from late 2014, 64 percent of millennials said they respond positively to content they consider “useful.” An equal percentage of those surveyed said they respond best to material that takes their cultural interests into account. Nearly as many (60 percent) said these factors influence what they share within social networks.

Delivering relatable, thought-provoking content is the best way into a consumer’s heart, and the message has to be tuned to the latest developments in the demographics’ sphere. When it succeeds, spreading the message (i.e., sharing) is free. Naturally, this approach demands a mastery of social media.

Using What Social Media Offers

Though consumers in the age of social media have more skepticism, marketers also have more information at their disposal to enter their circles of trust. An opportunity arises immediately when someone follows or likes your brand on social media. Right away, a company has established a direct mode of communication.

Making that connection work for your brand is the tough part. Random posts, polls and contests may amuse or captivate your audience momentarily, but brands are much better off showing the depth of the company’s mission. You might begin by touching on sustainability, which consumers overwhelmingly consider an essential part of any brand mission.

In a late 2015 Nielsen survey, 66 percent of global consumers said they would pay more for sustainable brands, with 73 percent of millennials agreeing. Both percentages were up double digits from a year earlier, which signifies just how important these concerns have become for consumers, especially in developing countries where sustainability is the only option.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Bombarding consumers with sustainability posts (read: boasts) or trying to divine what they consider genuine by studying Facebook profiles is not the answer, even though the effort is important. The old principle of concise, well-stated messaging remains as important as ever. But the actual marketing should come very late in the game if it comes at all.

That makes it harder to find that sweet spot balancing authenticity, respect for the consumer and a message that represents the company in the best light.

Brands certainly have their work cut out for them when trying to get and keep consumers in a time when confidence in institutions is shot. This subject will get the 302 Code treatment on the final day of &THEN at a talk titled, “Connecting with the Consumer in Age of Skepticism.” Find out from the industry’s best what it takes to think outside the box in this crucial area.

This article is brought to you by &THEN, DMA’s annual event. Click here to join the leaders of the marketing community and explore the science of creativity in Los Angeles, October 16-18. Save over $500 when you register online.