TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – December 2003

Return to Archive

Credibility CartoonOvercoming Distrust
I hate to be the one to break the news, but… people don't trust you. Sorry. Don't take it personally though; they don't trust anybody. That's the reality. Nothing new. People in general and customers specifically, have always been skeptical… but that "healthy" skepticism has morphed into something far more extreme: distrust of everyone and everything. It is the number one reason you don't get as many good new customers (or clients or patients) as you'd like.

People ask me what's the most difficult aspect of marketing a product or service. It's not coming up with a creative presentation (i.e., making the ordinary extraordinary). Nor is it analyzing the marketplace, selecting appropriate media, developing the message, etc. No, as you can tell from the title of this article, it's overcoming distrust. People will NOT buy from you until they trust you. ("Buy" may have a different interpretation in your line of work, but you know what I mean). Having said that, I'm not going to tell you how to build trust in your personal dealings with other people. I sincerely hope you don't need any help with that. I'm assuming you are honest, keep your promises, admit mistakes, and in general, live by the Golden Rule (not the version that goes, "The one with the gold makes the rules…"). No. My goal is to help your "marketing" reflect the good person that you already are.

Here are five great ways you can build trust and boost your credibility. They're geared to your written communications – the letters you write, emails you send, brochures you design, ads you place, etc., but many strategies are also highly applicable to your in-person, verbal communications.

(1) Credentialize Yourself. Walt Whitman said, "If you done it, it ain't bragging." That's true to an extent. It's important to let others know about your qualifications, training, experience, accolades, etc. The trick is doing that without coming off like a pompous ass. Credentialization is actually easier to do in person than in writing. For example, if you graduated from a prestigious university, there are often ways to subtly work that into conversation. Harder to do in print. Nonetheless, your education, background, and experience are highly credentializing factors, so don't be embarrassed to toot your horn a little. If your communications to a particular group are infrequent, then it's especially important to reestablish your credibility each time. Don't assume people remember what you told them about yourself last year.

(2) Use Testimonials. Know this: what others say about you (and your company and your products) is at least ten times more persuasive and believable than what you say about yourself and your company and your products. If you took away everything I put into a successful advertisement: powerful headline, compelling graphics, list of benefits, how-to-order information, et cetera, and allowed me to keep only one element of my choosing, I'd keep the testimonials. They're that important. But not all testimonials are created equal. There's a "hierarchy of goodness." The very best testimonials come from people who've "bought" from you, achieved great things by using your product or service, and want to share that good news with the world. The ideal testimonial arrives unsolicited, expresses heartfelt gratitude, is very specific, and yet… remains a bit unpolished. That keeps it real. I hope you know enough to never, never, never fabricate a testimonial. Aside from the fact that the Federal Trade Commission takes a very dim view of this practice, a made-up testimonial rarely passes the "sniff test." Nonetheless, I'm now going to make one up, just to illustrate the important elements.

Before we started using ABC Imaging, my department was spending $2,650 a month on document storage fees. Now that ABC is scanning our purchase orders and invoices, and providing them to us on optical disks, we've reduced our storage costs by $1,240 a month, and our workflow is so much smoother. Everybody here at Acme is thrilled, especially the CEO! Maybe saving almost $15,000 a year in storage costs may not mean that much to a giant corporation, but it's made a huge difference to us. Before we selected ABC Imaging to be our document scanning vendor, we interviewed 6 different firms. All of them had similar technology to yours and competitive pricing, but the caliber of ABC's people made our decision easy. I'd recommend ABC Imaging to anyone who wants to save money and manage their paper flow with a lot less hassle. Thank you!

- Jane Quant, Operations Manager, Acme Widget Co., Anyville, NY.

Here are the important points:

  • Before and after (spending on storage fees reduced)

  • Naming names ("Started using ABC Imaging…")

  • Quoting exact savings ("$1,240 a month…")

  • Relating to other similar customers ("But it's made a huge difference to us…")

  • Recounting the evaluation criteria ("ABC's people…")

  • Restating the benefit ("Anyone who what to save money…")

  • Full identification (Name, title, company, location)

The only thing that could make this better would be a photo of Jane herself.

If you owned ABC Imaging, would there be any doubt in your mind that Jane's words practically closed the sale for you? Testimonials are incredibly powerful. It mystifies me why so few people use them. If they're lucky enough to receive one unsolicited, it may get passed around the office, then put in a folder, never to see the light of day again. That borders on "marketing malpractice." Unsolicited testimonials are the best, but often, you'll have to encourage your customers/clients/patients to write one – even if they love you. The prime time to make this suggestion is when you get a verbal attaboy. A client may call you and say, "You did a fantastic job on the XYZ project…" Your natural reply should be, "Thanks for saying so. Would you mind sending me a note, so I could share your thoughts with others?"

Warning: after the note arrives, resist the urge to "edit" it. It's not right to do that without the sender's OK, and you risk destroying the testimonial's verisimilitude.

(3) Provide Proof. Most advertising and sales letters/emails are "proof impaired." They make a bunch of unsubstantiated claims, with the expectation those claims will be taken at face value. They will not. You need to supply proof. Fortunately, that corroboration can come from many sources: (a) a favorable review from a trusted industry publication, (b) laboratory test results, (c) case studies, (d) quotes from recognized experts, (e) intellectual property such as patents, etc.

(4) Be Specific. Advertising legend Claude Hopkins wrote "Platitudes and generalizations roll off the human understanding like water off a duck's back. They make no impression whatsoever." That's as true today as when he wrote Scientific Advertising eighty years ago. Saying "Best in the World…" is totally meaningless. If you want to be believed, get specific. That usually means using numbers. Exact numbers. If your thing is 18.7% better, say that. And don't round it to 20%. Rounded numbers are a lot less believable. Specific numbers catch your reader's eye and pull him/her into your dialogue. Instead of saying you have "Lots of happy customers," list them by name (with permission, of course). Infinitely more powerful.

(5) Guarantee it. Back your work with the strongest guarantee you can possibly imagine. The starting point is a full money-back guarantee. My (general) advice is to completely reverse the risk of transacting business with you. The more risk you take off the customer and place on yourself, the greater your sales. (Guaranteed.) Perhaps fortunately for you, most of your competitors are terrified of offering a strong guarantee – fearing that customers will take advantage of them. Urbach Letter readers are different. You offer best-in-show blue-ribbon products/services, go the extra mile, and won't rest until a wrong is righted. If a customer/client/patient is unhappy, you'll make things right. You ALREADY have a no-quibble, 100% satisfaction assured, "I'm going to fix this" guarantee; you just don't advertise it. Therefore, you have all the liability of a super-strong guarantee but little of the marketing benefit. Sure, if you advertise it, a few people will try to take advantage of you. But the extra money you'll likely make with an ultra-powerful guarantee will more than cover any losses incurred by those chiselers. That's been my experience over and over again.

And there you have it. Five ways to build trust and enhance your credibility. Nothing exotic. Just straightforward, honest strategies that'll set you apart from your competition… by focusing on your already outstanding qualities.

Return to Archive

(c) Copyright 2002-2010 Victor Urbach
This article
may be reprinted with permission and attribution