If you feel like trust is in short supply these days, you're not alone. People aren't even putting their trust in their peers like they used to. Trust in "a person like yourself" has never been lower, perhaps thanks to the proliferation of questionable opinions on social media. And according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, overall trust in the government, businesses, and other major institutions have seen a 37-point drop in the U.S.

While overall trust is on the decline, people are still putting their faith in the hands of those they deem to be credible leaders. Today's consumers are increasingly looking to experts for answers. This transfer of trust presents a compelling opportunity for consumer-centric companies. By sparking a dialogue with customers, prospects, and other industry voices, leaders can share their expertise and establish the kind of credibility that consumers are searching for.

If you're ready to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you need to establish a rapport built on trust and respect by following these three steps.

1. Don't sell junk (IOW, develop a reliable product).

With the right marketing, you can convince a customer to buy just about anything. Of course, if you have a lousy product or service, then marketing will only get you so far. Customers who consistently have buyer's remorse are not good for your brand-building efforts, so you should do everything you can to ensure a high degree of customer satisfaction.

So start with the basics: selling a high-quality product that customers will be impressed with. After all, a low-quality product will garner negative reviews, which can destroy your credibility. According to a survey from BrightLocal, 85 percent of customers treat online reviews like personal recommendations, so it's critical to ensure that yours are positive. At the same time, learn from critical feedback and respond to negative reviews promptly. If you show you care, many customers will happily give you a chance to make things right.

2. Let your hair down on social.

Social media allows you to interact with customers in an informal, conversational way, which is especially important if your company has a stuffy corporate image. Big players in the finance industry, for example, have been using social media to humanize their brands and have one-on-one conversations with their customers.

Doug Wilber, CEO of Gremlin Social, explains how financial institutions are using digital marketing to engage prospects and customers: "Even though people crave the instant gratification of speedy digital transactions, they still want human conversations. Social media breaks down the walls by turning banks from faceless entities into compassionate, knowledgeable personas." As an added benefit, it can also be a very cost-effective way of earning trust with your audience members.

3. Make your core differentiator your audience's new truth.

Some marketing experts estimate that the average American is exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. "Consumers are inundated with so much noise and so many competing messages in the marketplace that brands must find a way to stand out," says Lora Kellogg, president, and CEO of franchise marketing agency Curious Jane.

Kellogg believes that being authentic about your core differentiator is the only way to develop a valuable relationship with your audience. Think of Coca-Cola-owned Honest Tea, which proclaimed the benefits of its organic, less-sugary, fair trade products long before most customers had those concerns on their radar. Honest planted its flag squarely in that untapped territory, and it has since become a market leader in the premium tea category.

Trust isn't just given away -- it has to be earned. In order to win over skeptical customers, make things less about you and more about them. Start by impressing consumers with the quality of your product, and then engage with them on a personal level in the channels they use the most. Instead of talking about how great your product is, explain how your customers can meet their needs. Ultimately, they'll appreciate your expertise and be more likely to reward it with their patronage.