Trust, marketing and advertising — some surprising insights

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terryO'reilly trust

trust oreillyCanada’s public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, has the ability to delve into topics that would be taboo in the commercial media space. As an example, Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence program explores the marketing world with unusual depth and intensity. His recent program, Trust In Advertising, caught my ear. It lasts almost a half-hour, so you will need some time at your computer (or you may wish to purchase the podcast through iTunes) to listen to it.

The message, of course, is that trust is the cornerstone of successful business and marketing, but advertising often fails to deliver the goods. Conversely, businesses which provide a trusting environment for both employees and clients do exceptionally well. The golden rule undoubtedly applies. If you trust your clients and employees, you’ll receive trust in return.

O’Reilly cites some intriguing examples.  Zane’s Cycles, for example, absolutely declines any form of identification when new customers take test rides. The concept is to absolutely trust the potential client to return the bicycle after the ride is completed. The company reports it has lost just five bicycles out of five thousand, or more. But clients feel comfortable, buy, refer friends and family, and the virtuous cycle continues.

He also cited the Continental Airlines recovery — when former CEO Gordon Bethune turned the business around by setting a public bonfire of the company’s policy and procedures manuals — instead urging employees to do what is right. Employee satisfaction (and client satisfaction) went through the roof.

As well, he observes there are differing values between different nations. U.S. actors and celebrities lead the pack, according to a Readers Digest survey which puts Tom Hanks in the first spot. However, Canadians seem to have a more diverse trust-base. putting CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge in second place, between actor Michael J. Fox and scientist/environmentalist David Suzuki.

Undoubtedly there is value in this knowledge, but we need to take it with a grain of caution. U.S.A. Today says the Readers’ Digest trust survey methodology is “sketchy” and this video shows how stereotyping may influence perspectives about trustworthiness in the world of bike theft. (Three people, doing exactly the same thing, elicit entirely different responses from the same set of circumstances.)

O’Reilly points out that Internet advertising has the lowest trust rankings (in part because you can buy things too easily — consider this offer for Twitter followers), and newspaper advertising ranks highest in trustworthiness. Clearly, in the U.S., celebrity endorsements can be truly effective — but what if these are abused? The Federal Trade Commission is starting to crack down on celebrities who use their social media power without disclosing the endorsements are paid, not spontaneous.

Nevertheless, we can be reminded of the basics here, and take some simple measures to win the trust (and marketing) challenge:

Trust your employees

Trust your clients (and potential clients)

And they will trust you in return.

Can you share your own trust-building experiences, failures, or achievements?

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