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About People: Give a Shit

There is a troubling methodology trolling the marketing function today, threatening the core relationship between business and customer: Weaponized Trust.

To capture value from an ever increasingly real-time, short-form, social media-driven marketplace, we’ve begun to bastardize the squishy¹, (as Ann Handley puts them), but essential characteristics of marketing:

  • Authenticity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy

…and born are Relationship Marketing, Conversation Marketing, and Trust Marketing (ugh), to name a few <insert soft skill> marketing disciplines targeting customers’ most valuable asset, trust.

All of this is in the name of scalability and rapid user growth.

Double ugh.

Do you want to know the secret to scaling trust?

Give a shit about your customers!

Authenticity is not a marketing tactic.

Honesty is not a marketing tactic.

Empathy is not a marketing tactic.

There are no gimmicks, tricks, or hacks to fake trust.

You can run no automation sequences to fake giving a shit about your customers.

You have to care.

It’s that simple (and difficult).

And this might be tough to hear, but these squishy marketing characteristics are your competitive advantage.

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It’s not your patented technology.

It’s not the design of your product.

It’s not your high-margin manufacturing contracts.

If you don’t care about your customers…

(and I mean really care. Like wake up in the middle of the night sweating, your head filled with unprofitable, unscalable, and undeliverable ideas that your customers would lose their minds over.)

If you don’t care about your customers, you’re screwed.

To put “screwed” in context, I’m not saying you can’t run a business gimmicking and scheming your way through the marketplace.

You definitely can. Just about any form of marketing executed with intention can undoubtedly pick off at least a few unsuspecting customers in need of your solution.

I’ve seen it first-hand.

Companies can “fake it” a lot longer on gimmicks and schemes than you might think.

But it doesn’t last.

People aren’t stupid; they’re busy.

And when they finally slow down long enough, it’s easy to smell the bullshit.

The Weaponization of Trust

It’s diabolical but true; people buy from those they trust.

Thus, to grow our business, we need to figure out how to hack trust. Charles Ponzi figured this out to the tune of $20 million. And then there is Bernie Madoff, who cost investors nearly $18 billion.

Hacking trust works, just not forever and always to the detriment of the customers.

However, most who engage in the Weaponization of Trust do so not with ill intentions but to artificially grow a customer base faster than their business has created value for those customers.

These organizations hack trust on the front end to earn trust once customers have used their product.

This type of hacked trust is not nefarious but a slippery slope.

See, hacked trust is shallow. Yes, the customer bought your product, but they don’t love you, and at the first sign of trouble, they’re gone.

But when the opposite is true, when trust is built upfront, all the things that will inevitably go wrong can be forgiven.

This should be the goal of marketing.

Here are two examples of marketing tactics/technology that, when used for evil, mimic trust and a false sense of caring:

1) Chatbots

Chatbots can be a tremendous tool for automating the customer experience.

However, a bot (portrayed as human, that obviously isn’t), which doesn’t satisfy a customer interaction, will have a greater net negative impact than the subsequent positive interaction.

The failure of chatbots lies in transparency.

Attempting to trick someone into believing your chatbot is human = failure.

There is, however, an easy solution:

  1. Let people know upfront the chatbot is automated to solve quick issues and answer common questions most customers experience.
  2. As soon as an issue or question evolves beyond the chatbot’s capability, inject a human.

Now everyone wins, and real trust is gained.

2) Personalization

Personalized marketing is a strategy by which companies leverage data analysis and digital technology to deliver individualized messages and product offerings to current or prospective customers.

In theory, personalization is an incredible leap in positive customer experience. A personalized experience can provide value in both its utility and perceived caring.

The most obvious example is Amazon’s product recommendations.

You nailed it, Amazon. Camera gear and business books for the win.

Amazon continually analyzes its data sets to deliver recommended products tailored specifically to the customer.

But we’ve all experienced poor examples of personalization, i.e., the <insert first name> email, which portends to be a one-to-one message but is much more likely spam.

A few things in my book that rank as high on the “I don’t give a shit” scale, as the email personalization fail. I get it. Statistically, personalized messaging receive higher open rates.

That doesn’t mean it builds trust.

What it says to me is that you’re OK faking a real relationship with me to hawk your product.

You don’t need to fake a relationship with potential customers to sell your product; build a real relationship with them instead.

The Rub

Caring about customers sucks.

It would be best to consider every interaction your customer has with your business and how you can make that experience more enjoyable, valuable, and actionable.

And all of this has to be done on THEIR terms, from THEIR perspective, serving THEIR needs.

It’s hard work.

This is why so many marketers try to hack their way around it.

You can’t give a shit some of the time.

Don’t tell me you care, and then…

  • Make me cancel my subscription and re-subscribe yearly to get the new discount.
  • Create a return policy Ph.D.’s struggle to grasp.
  • Send my call into phone tree purgatory.
  • Do not have a simple-to-navigate help section on your website.
  • Upsell me within every touch point of our relationship.

“Mutually caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.” 

Fred Rogers¹

Too often, the doctrine of caring applies only when it’s most convenient.

“We can’t wait to add that necessary feature all our customers want, which would make our product more valuable… once we have some excess budget to spare.”

Caring about your customers, truly giving a shit about them and their well-being means sometimes you have to do things that aren’t in the immediate best interest of you and/or the company.

  • It could mean pulling a 14-hour day.
  • It could mean putting an ongoing project on hold to fix a bug.
  • It could mean giving a full refund even when the policy says you don’t have to.
  • It could mean referring out to a competitor whose product is a better fit.
  • It could mean picking up the phone and answering with a smile, even as stress sweat from the latest crisis drips down your forehead.

Caring about the customer sucks.

But then, that’s the whole point.

Caring, giving a shit, is not a marketing tactic. It can’t be. There’s no discernable ROI.

There isn’t a “We Cared Today” column in your sales spreadsheet.

No consultant can sell you a “How To Care More” strategy plan.

You have to care.

You have to make caring a priority.

Caring is the one thing talent, expertise, and experience cannot beat.

If you give a shit about people, surprisingly, people will give a shit about you.

And when customers give a shit about you and your business, that, my friends, is when magic becomes real.

Thank you,


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