It's no secret that many consumers are skeptical of  marketing and advertising. Years of pop-up ads, out-of-touch publicity stunts and downright offensive content has made people grow, understandably, suspicious of ads. To put a value on it, a study commissioned by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, just 4 percent of consumers believe advertisers and marketers practice integrity. Ouch.

So, what can you do as a business owner to ensure your branding, advertising and marketing doesn't get subconsciously clumped into this bucket? A lot of things. Here are six of them.

1. Provide social proofing.

Across the board, people trust people more than they do brands. Because of this, it's important to leverage what customers are saying about your company. One way to do this would be in the form of testimonials -- where you use customer quotes as advertisements.

Another form of social proofing is the number of likes, shares and comments on your social media ads themselves. The more you have, the more likely consumers will think you're legit. To drive this kind of engagement, be sure your ad targeting, and that you're not being a tight wad with your budget. 

Lastly, keep in mind these principles of social proofing should remain consistent across all of your marketing assets -- from your Facebook ads to your website. Nowadays, consumers research brands extensively prior to purchase, so be sure your ducks are in a row to show prospects you're the "real deal".

2. Don't be hacky.

Unless your brand voice is one centered around dad jokes or meme culture, it's almost never a good idea to hop on the back of the latest viral trends just for the sake of getting a few extra likes. Just because an egg beat out Kylie Jenner for the Instagram Likes record doesn't mean your medical consultancy needs to post about it simply to be "hip".

This opportunism comes off as inauthentic, hacky and self-serving -- and it can backfire quickly. Instead, stick to your brand. Being secure with your identity as a company will help you avoid cringe-worthy advertising.

3. Be culturally aware to avoid being offensive.

After the marketing fails by the likes of H&M, it's clear many advertisers and companies don't have a solid footing when it comes to cultural competency, or even awareness. Take the time to make sure you have a pulse on overall public opinion. If you're unsure if an ad campaign is offensive, run it by people in your organization who would know the answer.

No matter who you are, there are millions of consumers who don't look like you, think like you or view the world the same way you do, which is one of the biggest reasons why having people on your team and inner circle from diverse backgrounds is so important. If you don't know, don't be afraid to ask. 

4. Don't use corny stock photography.

Nothing screams a total lack of effort quite like having cheesy stock photos that have been circulated all over the internet on your ads and marketing assets. 

Before settling on a photo to use, shop around. If you don't have the resources to hire a photographer, then use sites like Unsplash and Pexels to find free stock photos much higher in quality than most unpaid alternatives.

5. Stop with the spelling and grammar errors.

In the mind of a consumer, a company who can't spend thirty seconds to proofread their assets prior to publishing them will practice the same carelessness with their products, services and customer experiences.

In a world where there are competing brands at every corner, this can have a massive impact on your bottom line. Don't have spelling and grammar errors. Just don't.

6. Quit with the outlandish promises.

Let's be real here: if your product was good enough to cure cancer, part the Red Sea or turn water into wine, you wouldn't need to advertise in the first place. Quit with the outlandish, over-the-top promises -- they're hurting your reputation. Instead, be open and honest with the real results your product and services will bring. 

If that means your product takes 30 days for the buyer to see results as opposed to instant results, then so be it. In the long run, it's much better to be transparent about your company when it comes to building trust than exaggerate what your solution will bring to customers.

Published on: May 31, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.