A successful brand’s essence relates to trust among current and potential clients. The stronger the brand, the higher the trust — and its effectiveness in magnifying and communicating the trust to anyone who could think of using or recommending the product, service or business.
I think sometimes marketers and salespeople, obsessed with details that some pundits describe as “bug dust” (in other words, trivial, insignificant but truly time and energy-consuming) forget to test whether their initiatives and activities enhance and improve trust. As well, it goes without saying that unless you are a criminal organization (operating a con), the trust needs to be founded in real values and practices. However, you can learn from the con artists about the trust-building/branding process — because obviously for a while, Enron and Bernie Madoff, among other business evil forces, “worked” and had a great brand.
This leads to a project for the next week: An exploration of various aspects of trust, including how to build and maintain it. The information here will, I think, be relevant for both marketers and business developers, who of course need to take the trust-building capability to the individual level, to win and nurture future business.
Many insights here (and in future postings) arise from this Quora.com question: “What is the quickest way to get people to trust you?” because, translated to a business level, that question could be turned into: “What is the quickest way to build a successful brand?” or “What is the quickest way to develop new business?”
Let’s begin this journey with the most popular answer, so far “upvoted” by 548 people. (Quora’s social media model — where individuals post questions and experts, either technical or through real life-experience) builds its trust ratings on the crowd-sourcing voting model. It seems to work — as I have discovered the good answers are really, indeed, quite good.)
The essence of trust-building, Geduld says, is to show something of yourself that might seem risky, to expose some of your inner soul, to share something that puts you at “risk”.
In a typical interaction between strangers (say two people riding an elevator together), neither makes himself vulnerable. But if they hang out for a while, say in a bar, eventually one will take a very small risk, maybe revealing that he sometimes fantasizes about being an astronaut.
If the other guy responds by mocking him, he knows to stop taking risks, but, at the same time, he’s not deeply wounded, because he’s only showed a little vulnerability.
In most case, the other guy doesn’t mock. Instead, he does one of two things. He either accepts the first guy’s ball without throwing it back (“An astronaut? Interesting.”) or he shares something from his life with an equal level of vulnerability (“An astronaut? Really? I would rather be a race-car driver.”)
We’re finely attuned to this dance, so if the first guy realizes that the second is receiving but not giving, he’ll probably quit taking any more risks. But if they’re on par, the first (or the second) may up the ante: “You know, I actually sent in an application to NASA…”
This is how trust is gradually built, and each relationship will stop at a certain point. These two barflies may never get beyond mild vulnerability (which still engenders a level of trust). But the same first-guy may tell his best friend, “I don’t ever want to have children,” because time has taught him that his friend is willing to give and receive at that level.
Geduld says, of course, you don’t want (nor should you) reveal all your inner secrets at the start — the deeper level of trust is earned stage by stage, and you can call limits anywhere along the line.
In business, think of Avis’s classic marketing slogan: “We’re number 2. We try harder.” Vulnerable, sure, effective, certainly. It doesn’t hurt to show a wart or two, provided that wart wouldn’t be a turn-off to current or potential clients; but maybe shows you as being fallible but able to learn from your experiences.
Compare this attitude to the traditional “bragging” approach of most businesses. “We have great customer service.” (Sure, I’ll believe that when I see it, and I’m not interested in looking.” “We are the largest and most successful architect in Ouagadougou.” (Well, that one might work, I suppose if phrased with wording perhaps like: “We faltered in Niamey but learned from our lessons in Ouagadougou, and here is an example of our work there.”)
There are big risks to both showing and not showing vulnerability. In the former case, you risk getting a knife in your back; in the latter case, you risk being lonely and failing to make connections that might lead to beneficial outcomes for yourself.
I suggest you treat being vulnerable like any risky but potentially beneficial thing. Working out is risky. Sex is risky. You could avoid both, but I don’t recommend it. Nor do I recommend running a marathon with no training or sleeping with hundreds of partners without using any protection.
Think “vulnerable” in your marketing and sales messages — show some humanity, a potential weakness, something that may not look perfect, out of context, but shows your real self (and real business). Your marketing will have an edge over the bragging me-too competitors.