When it comes to brands, trust is hard to define and even harder to earn. This post explores how a particular approach to messaging can create that elusive thing every brand desires.
What is trust?
Trust is a feeling that crystallizes into a belief. It’s deeper than an opinion – and more complex. For brands, it’s far harder to induce trust than a positive customer opinion about a rational thing, such as your delivery service. That’s because there’s an emotional component. It’s a gut feeling.
So how do brands become trusted?
Let’s pursue the delivery example for a moment. A brand delivers a product on time, as promised. Will customers immediately consider it trustworthy? Not likely. They’ll think it’s prompt. And when the brand delivers on time again and again? Well, customers may then start to rely on it. They’ll think it’s a great delivery service. But trust? That involves something more.
To trust you need to know a little bit about someone and recognise similarities. It’s what used to be called ‘identification’. I doubt anyone would say, ‘I really identify with that brand.’ But subconsciously, that’s what we’re aiming for.
If only he’d opened up a bit…
Friendliness won’t do it
At this point, your typical tone of voice section of a brand guidelines would say you need to sound a bit more human and use personal language. However, unless we know something about a person, there are dangers in assuming a friendship which isn't quite there yet. (See our post on chatty copy.)
Disclosure and sharing
The answer? Well, let’s see what science can tell us. Behavioural researchers quoted by Dr Robert B Cialdini in his book, ‘Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion’, were trying to find a way to help negotiators who couldn't meet or speak on the phone and had to conduct proceedings by email. Agreement rates were not nearly as good as when negotiators could meet face-to-face because it was ‘less likely that the negotiators exchanged the kind of personal information that typically helps establish better rapport’.
So they tested this: before negotiations took place, participants were given potted biographies of their counterparts and encouraged to shoot the breeze – via email – about topics of mutual interest for a few minutes before negotiating. They got to know each other, in other words.
The results? 29% of negotiators who didn't get to know each other failed to reach agreement whereas only 6% of the friendly group failed. Not only that, the combined value of the outcome to both sides was 18% higher in the personalised groups.
Reveal the brand’s personality
So, to earn trust, brands must also be open and reveal what they can about what makes them tick. That means giving insights into your processes, sincerely responding to customer feedback and showing the face of the boss and letting them speak. It could also mean actually admitting there are things you’re not so good at. Open up to customers, reveal who you are, and they’ll have someone to trust in.
Breaking the rules
Talking about yourselves rather than the consumer breaks one of the golden rules of copywriting: ‘It’s about them, not you’: benefits not features. That’s why every book on the subject encourages you to avoid ‘We’ and certainly ‘I’ and concentrate on using ‘you’ as much as possible. Maybe that’s fine if you've established a relationship. You understand the audience and you’re anticipating their needs and feelings. But it doesn’t reveal the real you.
When you look at brands that do have a strong character, brands like Paddy Power, sofa.com and First Direct, it’s telling how many opinions they have to share. Even sales messages are made to sound like convictions.
“Did you know… We’re so convinced by the quality of our sofa, bed and chair frames that they come with a lifetime guarantee.” Sofa.com
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Trust building is different from slick copywriting and a building a snazzy website: it’s about having conviction and setting out what you think is important. In brand speak, that’s called demonstrating your values. Get it right and you'll achieve authenticity, a precursor to trust.
That’s all easy to say but much harder to do. The marketer’s instinct is to iron out the rough edges and present a refined offer. But people do want to know where you come from and what you believe in. Of course they do. They’re human.