Trust is one of the most powerful business and marketing foundations. The argument is that effective marketing results in a stronger brand, which (in simplest terms) is the ability of a business or organization to receive current and potential clients’ trust. Solid trust reduces market resistance, allows for higher prices, and a much more sustainable business.
However, we all know the reactions when someone says “you can trust me” out loud. This is a word that, if used directly in the marketing process, has the opposite effect. Calling on the other party to trust you (and perhaps implying something negative will happen if you don’t trust the person or organization) can send up very big red flags. Trust is one of those things that, if you have to ask for it overtly, you risk losing it.
Then how do you really earn or prove trustworthiness?
I’ll answer this question by going back many years, to when I was 21 years old. I had serious emotional and personality challenges and sought help while at the University of British Columbia (UBC), through a group therapy program. The program admission guidelines required you to have rather serious issues in social relationships, but not be psychotic or otherwise mentally ill to the point of being unable to function in society. Here, I had proven some functionality. Despite my incredibly poor abilities to relate or communicate with others, I had somehow managed to win a coveted summer job as a daily newspaper reporter.
I agreed to put my new high-paying and high-status summer job on hold to work on the problems, and so started the program.
The battle began, within myself, my family (my parents could not understand why I wanted to pore or tear into the family structure to overcome my emotional issues) and, ultimately with the group’s co-ordinators.
This quality manifested in the trust jump. We were supposed to stand on a chair and then jump into the group to be gently lowered to the ground. I was afraid of this simple thing. Maybe rightfully so. There seemed to be growing tensions and it is possible that the group would have let me come to a rather hard landing on the ground. I think (though I don’t have the documentation now) that the group co-ordinators also saw inconsistencies in my private diary writing with my public expressions within the group.
About four weeks into the six week program, the researchers called me into a meeting and said I would have to leave. They gave me a referral to the regular group therapy program at the university’s psychiatric hospital. Within two days, I realized I was in a real nut-house, with peers who appeared to be drugged out on heavy anti-psychotic medication. I decided a summer job on a metropolitan daily newspaper would be a much more enjoyable experience.
In successive years I struggled and worked on the underlying problems, defying some odds and achieving success despite my real challenges. The highlight in self-discovery occurred 33 years ago, when I experienced the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe as a working journalist in Africa. I realized how much fear can tear away our lives (and of course fear is a rather big barrier to trust). I also realized that I had the courage and imagination to face and overcome my fears and the ability to persevere for important objectives.
However, it took yet another 12 years, when I was 38, and had been running this business for three years, when I learned the magic of trust. The business was failing. I returned to my dumpy apartment, took stock of my life, and realized it was a mess. I also realized (and this is important) that no one other than me was responsible for my problems, I had my physical health and I had proven I could do great things when I applied myself.
The result: A resounding personal change — a quality the woman who would become my wife two years later saw quite clearly. She could see I wasn’t driven by money — I was dating a much poorer woman — but I had the determination and willingness to work to make a better life. Before we married, we signed a prenuptial agreement because she had money, and I didn’t. My standard of living escalated. I had earned her trust. (We will celebrate our 20th anniversary this year.)
Today, I recognize trust in a variety of ways:
- Is there genuine community spirit and contributions, and do the potential clients/contractors, employees and others give their best to the world around them?
- When we enter into significant, financially important agreements, are we willing to take the time to make sure the paperwork and legalities are in order?
- How has the other party/organization behaved in the past? What is his/her/its reputation?
- If things go wrong in the relationship, have we covered the bases to ensure a balanced and satisfactory resolution beforehand in a responsible and mutually respectful manner? This is why I had no problem signing a prenuptual agreement with my new wife. That is why I like financial arrangements based on promises to be underpinned with proper documentation and financial controls.
Trust, for most of us, is earned. It is a highly challenging to ask for trust overtly. If we build our businesses and brands around genuine trust, we won’t need to use that word, ever.