By: Michael Cooney
Enron. MCI. “Big Business.”
When you see or hear those names and words, is there any particular thought that comes to mind? Scandal, perhaps? Or distrust? If so, you’re not alone. The recent slate of corporate misdeeds only adds to the general belief that you can’t really trust business executives.
An ongoing poll conducted by the respected University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center gives us more reason to be concerned about public perceptions. This poll samples the attitudes of a wide range of Americans, and simply asks the question: “Can most people be trusted?”
Here are some of the results through the years.
In 1964, 53% said, “Yes”
In 1971, 49% said, “Yes”
In 1980, 44% said, “Yes”
In 1991, 39% said, “Yes”
In 2002, 35% said, “Yes”
Starting in 1964 with only about half of Americans believing most people are trustworthy, a further 18% drop from there does not bode well for advertisers. Recent corporate scandals have no doubt widened the difference between the levels of trust granted to people in general, versus that granted to business owners and executives. In other words, the general public’s level of trust towards America’s executives is probably somewhere south of 35%.
This illustrates the importance of not giving the public more reason to doubt our truthfulness and trustworthiness as business people. As I’ve written here before, trust is the single most important ingredient in a person’s decision to buy or not to buy. Trust is more important than price, or even quality! After all, if you don’t trust a particular retailer or manufacturer to be honest, who cares about their claims of quality?
For business people the next question is, of course, “how can I build a greater level of trust with my prospective customers or clients?”
One important factor in building prospect’s trust is education. Do you remember how you felt towards your teachers in school? One of the feelings you probably developed was trust. That’s simply because those who teach us, and especially those who take the time to explain the hows and whys of a subject, generate a feeling of trust. Since human nature doesn’t change, and adults also respond well to those who teach them, you can use education to build trust in your advertising and marketing materials.
What To Ask Yourself
Start by asking yourself some fundamental questions. What kinds of questions do prospects ask most often? (If you don’t keep track of this, you should!). Look at your competitor’s materials. Are they explaining any methods, procedures or product information that you are not? What can you teach or explain about your products or services that would help your prospects understand your offerings more completely? What are the details of your materials or construction methods or how and why it works the way it does?
This kind of education can pay big dividends in building trust. Another method that will help is to simply look at each of your offerings through the eyes of your prospects. Put on your consumer hat and observe your company from a new point of view.
What To Avoid
Above all, don’t do what some misguided companies have done, by inadvertently creating an air of mistrust! Example: current Geico Insurance radio spots attempt to build business by airing a variety of scenarios in which someone is in desperate need of help (an accused person in prison, a parent with a son who has an embarrassing personal problem, etc.) and the person whose help is being sought says “I’ve got some great news for you! I just saved a bundle on my insurance!” Of course, this is not the good news the person in need was hoping for, so the “joke” is on them.
Would you want your company’s image tied to a person so shallow that he uses another’s misfortune as a joke? But, Geico execs might tell us, it’s all just good fun. Nevertheless, they appear to have tied their image to a person no one would trust in the least. How unfortunate.
When I looked back at the many trust-building devices I use for my client’s brochures, infomercial ads, and so on, it struck me that they were all tied in one way or another to education. And education does build trust.
You can grow the level of trust your prospects have towards your company, and in turn grow your sales, by concentrating on providing sincere, trust-building education in your ads and marketing materials.
Michael Cooney, co-founder, Global Development, a marketing and advertising consulting group