Four Types of Brand Credibility and How to Leverage Them

Without credibility, no amount of marketing or advertising is going to work. It really is as simple as that. If this wasn’t the case, the flashing pop-ups saying “free cash, no catch” would have us all rushing to the website to submit our personal details.

It may seem like a gut feeling that makes us think twice, but where is that wariness actually coming from? And, in a society saturated with marketing messages and advertising, how do you ensure that your brand messages are received with interest, rather than scepticism?

One of the answers is through an understanding of the different types of credibility.
free hugs

Knowing your brand’s strengths & weaknesses and boosting your credibility will improve your reputation. And that, in turn, will make your marketing and sales process a hell of a lot easier.

Four Types of credibility:

BJ Fogg, behavioural psychologist and web credibility specialist, identifies four types of credibility. (These are also summed up in a brilliant article by ConversionXL):

– Presumed Credibility
– Reputed Credibility
– Surface Credibility
– Earned Credibility

This post details what each of the four types boils down to – and how your brand can leverage them to increase onsite engagement.

#1 – Presumed credibility:

This first type of credibility comes down to the general assumptions we make about a brand, even if we haven’t experienced it first hand.

Presumed credibility explains why you may have never bought Nike running shoes, but you presume that the quality is going to be good, simply because of the brand’s reputation.

nike shoes

Presumed credibility also explains why people camped out to be able to buy the very first iPhone. None of these people had used an iPhone before – but Apple’s reputation preceded them. Apple was able to leverage the brand that Jobs had created (and the success of the iMac) and use this to promote a brand new product line.

You don’t need to be Apple, but a brand that we’ve heard of is likely to seem more credible than a brand that we’ve not heard of. BUT (and it’s a big but) – this is only the case if we’ve heard positive things. When consistent, negative feedback is generated about a brand, the danger is that very quickly it can start to develop a negative reputation. And, once a brand has lost its credibility, it’s very hard to win it back; a brand with a negative reputation will often appear less credible than a brand you’ve not heard of at all.

So how do brands leverage presumed credibility?

If you’re lucky to work for a brand with a household name, the beauty is, there’s not too much you need to do to generate new business. Your reputation is doing most of your marketing for you.

What you do need to invest in, is ensuring that you never let your standards drop. Being in the spotlight opens you up to criticism. People are much more inclined to share negative experiences that they’ve had with a brand, than positive ones.

This comes down to the negativity bias: a human irrationality that means that interactions or experiences of a negative nature have a greater effect on a person’s emotional state than neutral or positive experiences of the same measure. We feel the impact of negative experiences more strongly, and we’re driven to act on them.

So as long as you work to keep your current customers and users happy, you have this in the bag.

#2 – Reputed credibility:

Our second type of credibility is essentially a fancy term for word of mouth recommendations.

This is when a family member or friend (or people leaving reviews online) personally vouch for a company, product, or service. The more trusted the source, the more weight that recommendation carries.

This is why celebrity endorsements, influencer marketing and publicity gained through targeted PR activity is so valuable. One trusted influencer speaking positively about your brand may just be enough to boost your reputation to the point where people who fit your target audience seek you out. And, just like presumed credibility, they’ll already have positive preconceptions about what your brand can do for them.


This is where another heuristic, the confirmation bias, can take credit.

The confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that explains our tendency to look for information that supports what we believe. In doing so, we typically ignore information that goes against these beliefs.

If you are able to get people to fall in love with the idea of your brand before they’ve entered your sales funnel, odds are that they’re not going to be trying to catch you out. Instead, the confirmation bias says they’re going to be doing the opposite: looking for ways to continue along the user journey. If you can make any successive touch point or step in their journey easy (or better yet enjoyable) for them, you’ll be reinforcing the positive beliefs they hold about your brand or company, which will help lead them towards conversion.

How do you leverage reputed credibility?


– Include testimonials on the website

Ideally with images of the client, and their company. If you have any well-known clients from within your industry, leverage their influence.

– Look for targeted PR opportunities in relevant publications.

These could be either on or offline, or both, depending on where your audience is.

– Be open to influencer partnerships.

Just make sure the partnership is the right fit for your business and will help you reach the right target audience.

– Gather as many reviews from customers as possible.

Ideally through a trusted third party review site.

– Create a referral reward scheme.

Something small will give your current customers a little nudge. It might provide enough of a reason to make an introduction to someone else you could help.

#3 – Surface credibility:

The exciting thing about surface credibility is that it’s a lot more in your control. You also don’t need a long-established brand name to leverage this one!

Surface credibility is your first impression. It’s what people think after an initial, simple inspection. It could be the first impression from the website, reviews in the website listing on the SERPs, or even the first impression of your brand on social media.

For startups or companies who don’t have a strong reputation in their target markets, surface credibility is incredibly important. Users will be wary, seeking signs of legitimacy to make them feel comfortable. You need to enhance their trust in you and make them feel safe inputting their data and making an online purchase.

The good news is, there are lots of simple things you can do to help increase your surface credibility online.

Surface factors I focus on when performing communication audits for clients:

  • – Prominently display your contact details:

    Physical businesses should have their address and phone number visible at all times. This will reassure users of your actual presence. Local businesses targeting a smaller radius should stick to a local contact number to reinforce a value of community. If you’re an online only website, make it very easy for users to contact you, and set expectations around response times.

  • – Always tailor your content to your audience:

    Spend time understanding their motives and what they want. Then, present information on the site that immediately responds to their needs.

  • – Ensure your website is spelling and grammar mistake free:

    It’s such a simple thing to get right, and it’s worth making sure you do have it right. If your core website pages have obvious mistakes in the copy, it will definitely make people think twice about the credibility of your brand.

  • – Include testimonials:

    Ask existing customers for testimonials and include them on your homepage with photos and name of the customer. If you’re just starting out, reach out to press or relevant influencers and have them try your product or service in response for an honest review. If there’s no one influential you can think of, turn to someone that fits your target audience profile. You won’t get as much amplification of your brand, but their review will still add credibility to the website.

  • – Ensure you’re dominating the SERPs for your brand search terms:

    Set up a Google My Business listing and include all relevant information. Try and rack up some reviews as well! Think about message consistency in any social profile listings that come up under your branded search too. Remember that the SERPs are effectively the high street, and your listings are your shop window. What is the very first message you want users to take away, and how do you present that with a positive first impression?

  • – Display security and other trust signals:

    Exactly what signals you should include will vary depending on your industry. More credible sites will display an SSL certificate, especially on any pages where you take personal details or payments. You should also include seals of privacy surrounding data capture. Industry memberships/licences (e.g. ATOL protection for travel websites in the UK) are also worth making prominent.

  • – Actively engage with your social media community:

    If you have a social media presence, then ensure that you engage with the community that you’ve built. When people comment on your posts, comment back and build conversation. If people have left reviews, good or bad, respond to them right away. Not only are you strengthening the relationship with your existing customers, but you’re also showcasing to potential customers the kind of brand you are in how you respond.

If you want to learn more, the post I mentioned at the beginning of the article details a 39 step credibility checklist.

#4 – Earned credibility:

The last of the credibility types can only be earned through personal experience. To get to this point, a customer or user needs to be willing to engage with your brand. You can earn this type of credibility through delivering on a promise, or better still – going above and beyond. From fantastic customer service to an exceptional product experience – it’s this type of credibility that turns customers or clients into raving fans.

happy customer

The biggest way to leverage earned credibility is by turning your best, happy customers into clients. A customer is only transactional, but a client is someone you form an ongoing relationship with and who keeps coming back. If you earn credibility with existing customers, it’s much more likely you can upsell extra products or services. In this case, one happy client’s lifetime value is likely going to be worth a lot more than many customers you only exchange with once.

Beyond lifetime value, think about how this happy client can help you develop the other types of credibility we’ve discussed. Would they be happy to write a testimonial? Would they spread the word about your product or service to friends or colleagues? I’m banking on the answer being yes.

apple store

Putting the pieces together

Whilst there are four types of credibility, they are in no ways mutually exclusive.

True, new or small businesses may need to invest more in surface credibility as their primary reliance, but that doesn’t mean that more established brands should ignore these surface level factors. At the same time, new or small businesses shouldn’t be put off investing in publicity or recommendation schemes to boost word of mouth.

At the end of the day, it comes down to getting more users comfortable engaging with your brand. Once you’ve achieved that, you just need to deliver on your promises – and that’s over to you, your products and your staff to deliver.


Skippy has been working in digital for the last five years following a PR and communications background. She's passionate about helping businesses boost onsite engagement through increasing their credibility and improving their content.

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