Rapidly Building Trust in Uncertain Times

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Hey everyone! Today I’m going to show you a few secrets for how to rapidly build trust with your audiences, without spending years doing so AND even if you don’t consider yourself a natural marketer. Now, I’m guessing that for most of you this isn’t your first attempt to figure out how to build a trusting and responsive audience. 

So if you’ve been concerned in the past that you just can’t figure this out, or if you’re concerned that the current market forces make this an impossible task – I want to put those concerns to rest: You absolutely can do this and over the next few paragraphs or so I am going to help you figure it out.

Now to start, there isn’t a school kid in the US who hasn’t heard the famous words of Henry Longfellow:

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear; Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”

Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride

In one of the most iconic pieces of American Revolutionary history, Paul Revere is known for his historic ride to Lexington and Concord to warn the colonists of the impending British attack. He was successful in rousing the villagers in every town that he came across between Boston and Concord, Massachusetts, ultimately setting in motion the events that the next day would begin the American Revolution.

Now, normally when I do this as a webinar or presentation, I’d stop here to ask if anyone knows who this fellow below is – and usually, I’d get a resounding wall of silence.

William Dawes, the OTHER rider that fateful night

What most people don’t know, is that there was actually a second rider on that famous night: This fellow above: William Dawes.

William was a tanner in Boston and a friend of Revere. While Revere went riding off in one direction to stir up a militia, Dawes rode in the other. Ultimately, they would both end up in Concord, but only Revere would go down in history for the militia that he was able to rouse on his journey.

Why was that?

Revere was an active networker in his town. He started several organizations, was a small business owner, and active in his church. He was well known AND well trusted. Ultimately, the trust he built was what led him to having access to the Old North Church where he hung the lanterns, and why he was so effective at rousing the militia during his midnight ride, while Dawes was not.

In this case, the trust that Paul Revere was able to build in his community was literally the difference between going down in history, and fading into obscurity.

Let’s fast forward to today.

As much as 85% of all job openings are awarded to someone in the poster’s immediate network. Among the world’s elite, a strong network is cited as one of the most valuable resources that a person can have. And there are literally millions of instagrammable quotes on the power of your network.

Now, I can hear you saying to yourself that this was supposed to be a presentation on rapidly building trust, not on networking. Well, stick with me here, because what I’m hoping to show is that it’s all the same. Your network, whether that is a network of friends, colleagues, or your customers and users, all respond to the same things and trust is the underlying currency that powers it all.

Let me ask you a question:

Do you have years to sit around and work on building a responsive audience like Revere’s?

Most people think that building this kind of trust in a network, whether business, personal, or customers, takes ages. And technically yes, they’re right. The strongest relationships will absolutely take time to build. But you can also absolutely accelerate the process.

So that’s what we’re here for: By the end of this post, I’m going to show you five cognitive biases that you can use to accelerate the trust-building process in your business and rapidly build up goodwill with any audience. 

As well as practical examples of how you can implement these strategies into your business TODAY.

Sound good?

Im just going to pretend that you all gave me a resounding yes here and press on.

The time I completely blew my shot with Richard Branson

So, to get this out of the way: Who am I and why should you care?

Well, you’re on my site, so I should hope that you know something about me, but for everyone else: My name is Jacob and I am a marketing strategist who specializes in the psychology of marketing and new product launches – and the founder of Donna Digital Receptionists. 

I have worked with clients that range from industry-leading mental health apps to publicly traded beauty companies to create millions in added revenue and launch new products into international markets. 

Before that, I was an early employee at several fintech startups, Trustee of Western Washington University, founded my own marketing agency, spend the better part of a year traveling the world, and then was appointed Vice Consul to the United Kingdom just to round things out. 

It all sounds pretty glamorous now, especially with this photo of Richard Branson up here, but it definitely wasn’t always that way. (And spoiler, I completely blew my shot there with Richard – so don’t be too jealous! If anyone has an in with him, I’d love to talk about getting a second chance to meet him!)

Anyway, I struggled for years to figure out what I was good at, let alone how to convince my introvert self that I really did need to get out there and start building an audience. In fact, to be honest, it’s still a real struggle for me to put myself out there.

That led me down an interesting path of exploring the psychology of marketing and why we do the things we do.

Now, one of the first things that caught my attention when I set out to understand all of this was an epiphany that I had while standing around at a startup networking event one night – you know the kind: 

A bunch of people standing around, a few discarded boxes of pizza at one end of the room, a makeshift bar at the other, huddles of people circled up here and there that make you feel like they don’t want to talk to you?

For the record, I hate those events. I’ve made it a mission of mine to host unique and interesting events that people will talk about after and actually WANT to attend. But that’s beside the point.

I was standing there with a drink in one hand, watching the scene laid out before me and noticed one thing that would really change how I approached marketing:

Every individual within one of those little huddles had some physical commonality with everyone else in that circle. And each group was unique from those other groupings around them. Some were all male, others all female. Some were clearly techies, others were obviously MBA-types. 

Every group had something in common that made others feel a sense of trust that this was the group they should be in.

It was kinda like on the first day of school when you try to figure out where to sit in the classroom and you quickly look around for someone that looks similar to you.

Similar clothes, similar attractiveness, similar stickers on your binder.

As it turns out, this is true everywhere in life. We will always look for similarities between us and an outside group to determine if we are in the right place. 

Any groups that we see which have a trace of that commonality will automatically be perceived in our brains as being more trustworthy than other groups simply based on that one simple similarity.

The In-Group Bias

This is the first cognitive bias: the in-group bias. The unconscious bias where we tend to like people who we PERCEIVE as being similar to us more than other people in any given sample.

Rather than seeking out people who are different from us, we tend to seek out those we perceive as being the same. Whether it is for comfort, safety, or just a lack of things to talk about – it can be seen everywhere and it 100% can be used to build trust in marketing and advertising.

The magic of all these cognitive biases we talk about is that they are all fairly easy to employ when given some deliberate thought as to how to use them. The in-group bias can and should be used in marketing imagery to prime your target client/customer before they really know a lot about you. 

Is your target customer or user a millennial tech worker? Make sure that the images on your website either feature millennials or things that your target millennial would find interesting. If you yourself are a millennial, then put images of yourself on your website. 

If not, but your product or service is targeted at millennials, then try displaying a common interest instead. Perhaps your ideal client is a tech-savvy millennial and you are a Gen Xer, go try on a VR headset at a store and take a photo wearing it. Take a casual-dress photo of you working on a computer instead of the stuffy suit and tie headshot. Get creative! 

One word of warning. Do not by any means be disingenuous. Consumers value transparency and honesty above all else. Portraying yourself as ‘hip and cool’ when you really aren’t will eventually be found out pretty quickly once someone starts talking to you and that will cause more harm than had you just done nothing at all in the first place.

Oscar Subway Ad

One company that I think has done an excellent job of using this bias in their marketing is the insurtech company: Oscar. 

They know that their ideal customer is a millennial who uses their smartphone for everything, so they designed everything about this ad to appeal to that demographic and anyone who isn’t in that demographic will likely be turned away.

This could just as easily have been designed for retirees who have a hard time leaving their homes, or busy professionals, but they knew that this was the target client base that would deliver them the most value over the long term. They also understood that this demographic is likely to resonate with humor better than other messaging.

The Mere-Exposure Effect

Next is one of the most commonly used techniques that most people don’t even realize they are using. It is called the Mere-Exposure Effect, where we tend to develop trust and affinity for things that we see as familiar.

This is where we tend to develop trust and affinity for things that we see as familiar. Basically, the more we see something, the more we believe it to be trustworthy- EVEN if no other new information has been added. 

This is the effect that most on-air advertising uses to drill messages into the consumer’s minds. In that example, the on-air advertisers are really just trying to make a message stick through repetition, but the cognitive bias that is powering the likability and trust for those brands is the mere-exposure effect.

This is an excellent tactic to employ in industries where a business-client relationship disproportionally relies on trust more than in other industries. 

A good example is the financial services industry where typical sales cycles can be up to 9-12 months due to the immense amount of trust and likability that must be built up before a client will entrust their financial lives to someone else. 

Utilizing the Mere-Exposure Effect, a company can compress that sales cycle to just 3-6 months by building trust through repetition (among other strategies). 

One great practical strategy is to author several pieces of educational content that will position your company as an authority in your field, and then use various channels such as LinkedIn and Facebook to distribute this content to the same audience many times via a mixture of paid and organic posts. 

The readers become more and more familiar with your name or brand over time and their trust in you will begin to increase, even if they have never directly talked or interacted with you. 

The Authority Heuristic

The third bias is a fun one and particularly interesting. It’s also one that can and has been abused by bad actors, so you ought to be careful to use it in a very intentional way.

If you dig way back to your college sociology or psychology textbooks, you may remember the Authority Heuristic being discussed in relation to the Stanley Milgram experiments; in which, a man in a white lab coat told the subject to apply an electric shock to an unknown second individual in another room. 

The Milgram Experiments

For those who aren’t familiar, the study showed that, despite the subject never actually being told that this man in the lab coat was in a position of authority, they would do as he said in more than 50% of the experiments simply due to his perceived authority

That time in which I blew my shot to party with Post Malone

These kinds of tactics are often attempted when you see things like celebrity endorsements in advertising, unfortunately for those brands, they often are wasting money as it has been shown that celebrity endorsements actually negatively impact sales as consumers are more likely to remember the celebrity than the brand itself.

A more effective way to use this bias is to use experts in a field who are not celebrities, but do carry weight through their credentials. Borrowing their authority is an excellent shortcut to building it up yourself.

I once built an online stock trading conference and just interviewed people who were experts at trading. I myself didn’t know much at all on the subject at the time but quickly built a following of 1000 people who perceived me as an expert on the subject just because I was in proximity to those who were the experts and I was creating content that was useful for them.

It doesn’t take a massive volume of work either – even just a handful of articles can be used to create a multi-month content schedule that will start to build your funnel.

The Bandwagon Effect

The Bandwagon Effect really needs no introduction, but as a quick refresher: the bandwagon effect is when an individual places their trust in something based on the perception that many other people have already placed their trust in it first. 

This one is big in quickly building trust and fortunately for us – it is easy for us to create through social media and social proof tools that can be employed on your website.

This tactic is likely one that you are already using, or will be the first thing that you implement. Things like social share counters, comments on posts, testimonials/reviews, and ‘Recent sale’ software all can drastically increase your sales or installs and trust by many hundreds of percentage points if employed correctly. 

My favorite tool to do this is called Proof. They allow a site to install a few lines of code and then a small popup will appear in the bottom of your site any time a customer or client checks out by displaying a face, location, and name of the buyer. 

This is the ultimate social proof and they claim to have seen increases of over 300% for some of their users. There are also plenty of competitors with varying styles and complexities to fit your specific situation.

Finally, using things like testimonials and reviews really are among the most powerful social influencers. If you don’t have any customers or users yet, then show your product to your friends and get them to make a statement. It honestly doesn’t matter – just having that quote on your site will absolutely make a difference.

The Pratfall Effect

The Pratfall Effect is a particularly fun cognitive bias as it involves being ok with imperfection. Essentially, the pratfall effect says that poking fun at yourself or making a mistake will actually increase your likability so long as the viewer continues to perceive you as being competent at your service. 

So for instance, if you are a restaurant and known for making amazing food, then the chef making a typo in a social media post will likely increase his or her likability since that clearly has no bearing on their ability to cook great food. 

Or if a financial advisor stumbles during a live presentation and then jokes about it, the crowd knows that this has nothing to do with managing a portfolio so they will actually like that person more for being more genuine.

I’ve actually used it a few times in this post already – making fun of myself or showing that I’m not perfect in areas that have no bearing to my marketing abilities.

For me personally, I like to use it as permission to not be perfect. I am a type A and hate having mistakes in my webinars or marketing campaigns. But rather than driving myself crazy doing 50 takes on a webinar, I just remember this and say that it’s ok to make fun of myself a bit or get tongue-tied here or there as long as it doesn’t lower anyone’s perception of my ability to get the job done. 

This can be intentionally crafted by a little self-deprecation when introducing yourself or in your content creation. Just make sure that you don’t go overboard, you want to be sure that you still come off as a professional rather than a comedian (Unless you are one!).

One More Tip – Honesty and Candor

One extra bonus tip that I wanted to mention, which is particularly prescient right now, is the power of simple candor and honesty.

Right now in 2020, the world feels a bit like it’s falling apart. And on top of that, it seems like just about everyone and their mums have an opinion on what you should be doing in response.

The problem is, how the heck do you know what people are actually doing and how much of this is just bunk that they are repeating because it sounds good?

Well, your customers and clients all feel the same way. There is so much noise right now that it’s hard to stand out. Sometimes, the calm and collected voice is the one that stands out loudest.

Right now, just a little honesty and a message from the heart goes a long way to standing out with your audience. It also comes across as a truly genuine message in a sea of hypocrisy.

My team recently decided to send an email out to our list that was just a simple note telling folks exactly what we were doing in response to the economic downturn. No big grand speeches or a list of items that everyone ‘should’ be doing.

Just a short note from the heart about what changes we actually were implementing.

And you know what? People loved it.

Putting it All Together

So with that, let’s wrap up. Here are the Top Five Cognitive Biases you can use in Your Marketing Campaigns TODAY to rapidly build trust with your audience – even if you aren’t a natural marketer:

  1. The In-Group Bias
  2. The Mere-Exposure Effect
  3. The Authority Heuristic
  4. The Bandwagon Effect
  5. The Pratfall Effect

Bonus: A Little Candor

Hopefully, I’ve given you some strategies based in cognitive science that you will be able to implement in your businesses, without spending years to do so, AND even if you don’t consider yourself a natural marketer.

So let me ask you all a question: If you stole these strategies and implemented them in your business today, do you think you’d increase your success at building trusted followers?

I’m betting yes.

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