Do your Prospects Believe you?

Trust. Every business needs it. But how do you get it and how will you know when you have it? And in the online world how do we build the trust that gets us beyond the first tentative steps of a business relationship?

I was given a lesson in the elusive and often irrational nature of trust by and elderly Frenchman several years ago.

I was at one of those French supermarkets where you need to insert a 1 Euro coin to release the shopping trolley. The space for returning trolleys was about 30m from where I had just parked. The Frenchman in question was on his way there to park his empty trolley and retrieve his coin as I got out of my car.

Ah, I thought. I’ll save us both a bit of effort by handing over a 1 Euro coin in return for his trolley.

Initially the transaction was accepted with a nod. But as I walked away I was aware that my coin was being intensely scrutinized.

I’d got no further than 10 metres before the Frenchman called me back to reclaim his trolley and return my coin with a firm ‘Non monsieur’.

The episode seemed bizarre for a number of reasons: there was nothing odd about the coin – it was exactly the same as any other 1 Euro piece; also, I don’t think I look dishonest; and finally, any risk involved was negligible.

Trust isn’t a rational process

Yet there was clearly something that made the guy uneasy. And some comfort to be gained by walking an extra 30m to retrieve his coin despite the awkwardness of the situation. Perhaps he didn’t like or trust any English people, who knows?

I’m pretty sure that even the Frenchman would have struggled to give an explanation for his actions.

What the episode demonstrated was that trust cannot always be rationalized and has as much to do with the unconscious mind as the conscious mind. For any business wanting to market itself online, this raises a few issues.

Trust is a vital commodity even when transactions are small and carry little risk of loss. Nurturing a sense of trust is an essential element in e-commerce conversions, even if the items you sell only cost a few pounds. And if you’re hoping to sell big ticket items or professional services, establishing trust has to be the core of your online marketing.

But is that where all the effort really goes? Are establishing trust and developing the relationships that reinforce trust things that you have specifically acknowledged in your marketing plan? Or is the focus on ‘getting your message out’ and ‘using the words that make us sound good’?

Why does John Lewis bother with trust seals?

If there’s one UK retail brand that you might think wouldn’t need to make too much effort to reinforce trust through its e-commerce site it’s probably John Lewis. We all know them and they have a great reputation for customer service.

Yet look at this section of their online shopping basket:

ecommerce trust
Note the VeriSign Secured seal and the ‘Continue Securly’ button.

Why does an established brand like John Lewis still bother with using a VeriSign trust seal? I’m guessing that split tests show that it still makes a difference to conversions.

How many customers who completed a check out could tell you whether the button that got them there said ‘Continue Securely’ (as with the John Lewis site) or just ‘Continue’?

Yet e-commerce split tests will tell you over and over again that simple subliminal trust-building features like this have a significant effect on conversion rates.

Trust is a vital element in the science of online retailing and works on many levels:

  • A professional, well-designed site
  • Good quality images so that people can see what they’re buying
  • Detailed product descriptions
  • Other helpful content such as size guides, blogs and video guides that show you care about helping me to find the most suitable product and get the most value or enjoyment from it
  • Unbiased online reviews
  • Trust seals and reassuring words on navigation buttons

Reputation Matters

If you want to sell services to other businesses, you can’t hope to do this without trust. But just being all over social media does not make you trustworthy.

Where many businesses still get it wrong with social media is that they think it’s a broadcast marketing channel. The effort goes into raising awareness of the offer rather than developing relationships and trust.

Name any business service and I could happily give you names of several people who I would trust to meet your needs. Many of these will be people I have never met other than through social media.

I can tell that they know what they are talking about from the content they publish. And because of the honesty and authenticity of their online presence I would be happy to work with them or recommend their services.

Again, I couldn’t write out a definitive list of reasons why I trust these people – that’s just not how our minds work. But one thing’s for sure, if all I ever saw from them looked like old-style marketing, this trust would never happen.

Individuals not organisations

And it’s not the company or the brand that matters – it’s the person. Over the next few years one of the biggest challenges for businesses that sell services will be how to ease the traditional marketing control mechanisms to allow their experts to establish genuine, authentic and non-corporate online presences.

The irony here is that brands will have to learn to trust their own internal experts in order win the trust of potential customers. They may need some professional help to improve the quality of the content; and that’s fine as long as the results faithfully represent their views and beliefs. I explored these issues in more depth in this article.

Social media activity has to become something that marketing doesn’t control and so much more than a few minutes put aside from ‘real’ work to post up a few links. Hopefully we’ll see fewer businesses outsourcing their social media in future.

Trust also matters to Google. The semantic web is all about serving the best and most trustworthy answers to real questions rather than the best keyword match. I highly recommend David Amerland’s book Google Semantic Search if you want to understand where search is heading.

Borrowed Trust

Like it or not, we are all influenced by other people and tend to follow the crowd. So when somebody we trust comments on, agrees with or re-posts somebody else’s content this is more than just a simple act of sharing. They are imbuing that content with a part of the trust and reputation they have probably taken years to build. This is what makes influencer marketing so powerful, so challenging and impossible to fake.

People with large social media followings are often incredibly generous with lending out a bit of their ‘trust capital’ if you meet 4 basic criteria:

  • You’ve taken the trouble to interact thoughtfully and constructively with their posts.
  • The content you produce is of comparable quality to something they would have produced (which doesn’t mean you have to write it the same way they would).
  • Your content adds value to their readers.
  • You have made a genuine, authentic and human connection with them.

There also has to be a large degree of genuine empathy with how you both see the world. Fundamentally they will need to trust you, your competence and your motivations. And this may well be more about ‘gut-feel’ than a trustworthiness checklist.

When somebody else shares your content, or even comments on or publicly likes it, always be conscious of the fact that they’ve been willing to invest a little bit of their hard-earned reputation in what you’ve produced. So make sure you’re grateful.

Closing the deal

Of course people rarely buy business services online in the same way they would buy a washing machine. There still has to be a conversation. Online trust helps here in two ways: first, it earns you the right to have the conversation; second, confirmation bias will probably work in your favour if somebody is already inclined to work with you because of your online trust and the social proof of your competence.

Perhaps the simplest advice of all is just to be yourself and learn to be more comfortable with doing that online.

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Richard Hussey, Copywriter and Content Marketer

Looking for content that will build trust in your business? Let’s talk.

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