If Trust Doesn’t Drive Your KPIs, Start Packing

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What if I told you that this article had nothing to do with marketing, trust or KPIs? That it was entirely about timeshares. Life insurance. Merino wool socks. The fall’s most anticipated movie.

RELAX: it’s not — please keep reading.

But clearly, you came here because the headline appealed to you. It appeared to scratch an itch you felt. One that, whether mildly or imperatively, you wanted resolution for.

And here I am, trying to sell you something else altogether. How dare I?

Marketers pull this kind of punk move millions of times a day. I should know; I am one.

What woman, anxious to calm her father’s doubts about meeting her new boyfriend, would ever go with “Relax, Dad. He’s in marketing.”?

Or what defendant, speaking to the judge in a larceny case, would try and pull a “Sir, I think there’s been a mistake here. I’m actually in marketing.”?

Trust, it seems, has become something we’re OK passing up in favor of consistent performance.

But is any marketing initiative worth depleting trust in your brand?

It can be really easy to start seeing your marketing as a purely digital endeavor, a video game that offers points for page views, clicks, subscribers and sales. Dangerously easy, in fact.

Your potential customers are real people. They’re discerning individuals that can smell BS and have been conditioned to reject it. Unlike a video game, neither you nor they are going to respawn to allow a fresh start. There’s seldom an opportunity for “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We got off on the wrong foot.” No, you’re stuck with any bridges you’ve burned and relationships you’ve soiled.

So is it really hard to believe that only 3 percent of the population would characterize marketers and salespeople as trustworthy?

What percentage of the population are marketers and salespeople? It has to be more than 3 percent, right? So some of us might not even be buying it.

You trust me, though, right Mom?

Bill Carmody, the successful college basketball coach, was quoted as saying:

“The more someone likes you, the more they begin to trust you. This transforms the relationship from one of buyer and seller to the preferred position of subject matter expert and interested party.”

Trust, then, seems to be the true key performance indicator.

It’s the reason we go where we do to get a recommendation: most often friends and family, a co-worker, a subject matter expert we know — honestly, even a random stranger.

Those are who we turn to, because we either trust them, or have no reason to not trust them.

So many marketing practices, however, reward performance over trust.

Well it can’t be bad if it works, right? The proof is in the pudding.

Pudding? What pudding? Is the pudding steep year-over-year declines in trust of politics, media, and business? What about in science, God and each other?

If I were selling trust right now, I would be concerned.

Wait, I am selling trust. And so are you. We’re just doing a piss-poor job of doing it.

Look, I’m not trying to send anyone into a downward spiral of career dissatisfaction. Nor is this article meant to drive you straight into the comforting arms of chemical dependence.

But you can do more. I can do more. We all can do more.

It starts by recognizing bad marketing and taking steps to avoid it. Here are a handful of places to start:

Before we get started, I’m going to lay out an assumption. I assume that we all have a basic understanding of “shady” business. I’m not going to claim that it lines up perfectly for every person, but for the most part, you know when you’re doing something questionable. So rather than calling out specifics here, I’ll just keep it general.

You won’t generate trust by tricking your customer into opening or clicking an email. No, you’re not playing a cute joke or rickrolling them. Your attempt lacks the community and relationship that makes that sort of lighthearted deception endearing, and it’s sure as hell light on the trench coats, lovably awkward dancing and sexy baritone.

If you offer people what they want, when they want it, it will happen on its own — no tricks, guilt or pandering needed.

Best. Fastest. Lightest. Cheapest. Game-changing. The last ____ you will ever need.

A superlative is not a space-filler. It’s not something you use when you need something to sound impressive. It’s something you use when your product IS impressive. Trust cannot survive in a gap between your brand’s single-sourced claim of a product’s impressiveness and a consumer’s multi-sourced research on that product’s impressiveness. It’s a black hole that they’ll notice. And you’ll find that it’s a whole lot harder to sell the next product — impressive as it may be — to that now-skeptical customer.

I once interviewed a brand that wanted to talk about their newest products. One problem: no one else was talking about their new products. Instead, there was a lot of buzz about the recall of one of last year’s products and how it would affect this year’s products. I wanted to talk about that. They didn’t. End of story.

The thing is, I’m not talking about a Volkswagen-scale massive “truth-wrenched-from-the-darkness-of-corporate-fraud” type of recall, I’m talking about the common “just-in-case” recall that can actually go a long way toward demonstrating a willingness to fix unintended errors and consequences.

Product flopped? Went to market too soon? Trademark lawsuit? Just talk about it. Find the right channel, show a bit of humility and explain what went wrong and how you’re going to change it. It’s like I tell my kids — it’s always going to be worse if you try and cover it up.

  • 25 Ways to Part With Your Hard-Earned Money
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  • This New Infographic Shows You How We’re Going to Spend Your Tax Refund Check
  • 15 Email Subject Lines That Work on Suckers Like You

You get my point. Content marketing is about finding where your customers’ needs and your expertise meet, and then providing a helpful solution. It became successful as an alternative to the see-click-buy model of traditional advertising (which people were sick of), so if you’re looking at it like just another sales technique, you’re probably missing the point.

On a personal note, your own brand is affected by this trust as well. If a brand has little inherent trust, by extension anyone involved with that brand is going to be affected. Be willing to speak up or get out. If trust is important to you, learn to recognize the signs of its depletion and do what you have to do. Trust is easier earned than earned back, and while the brand may be willing to risk their reputation, you may not.

There are so many more tactics like these. You know them. And maybe they work. Maybe you “Boost your email subscriptions by 40 percent using this one simple trick,” or “Get 10K new followers this weekend in three steps.” And if you do, good for you — so long as you do it the right way.

Because if I’m one of those subscribers or followers, just know that I come in looking for an excuse to unfollow, unsubscribe and generally GTFO at the first sign of trouble. And I’ll probably take some friends with me.

Take your time courting your customers. The trust you gain will be worth it.

I write. I market. I dad. I occasionally outdoor. At this stage in my life, that pretty much sums it up.

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