Why the Weaponization of Trust will destroy your business and how to avoid falling into this seductive trap.
There is a troubling methodology trolling the marketing function today, threatening the core relationship between business and customer: Weaponized Trust.
In an effort 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:
…and born are Relationship Marketing, Conversation Marketing, and Trust Marketing (ugh), just to name a few <insert soft skill> marketing disciplines targeting customers most valuable asset, trust.
All of this in the name scalability and rapid user growth.
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.
There are no automation sequences you can run 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 characteristics of marketing are your competitive advantage.
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.
Just 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 undoubtably 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, all we need to do is figure out how to hack trust. Charles Ponzi figured out this out to tune of $20 million. And than there is Bernie Madoff, who cost investors near $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 in an effort to artificially grow a customers base faster than their business has created value for those customers.
These organizations hack trust on the front end in hopes they 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 thing that will inevitably go wrong can be forgiven.
This should be the goal of marketing.
Here are two examples of marketing tactics/technology, which, when used for evil, mimic trust and a false sense of caring:
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:
- Let people know upfront the chatbot is automated to solve quick issues and answer common questions most customers experience.
- As soon as an issue or question evolves beyond the chatbots capability, inject a human.
Now everyone wins and real trust is gained.
Personalized marketing is a marketing 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.
Amazon continually analyzes their 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.
There are few things in my book that rank as high on the “I don’t give a shit” scale like the email personalization fail. I get it, statistically, personalized messaging receives higher open rates.
That doesn’t mean it builds trust.
What it says to me, is you’re OK faking a real relationship with me in an effort to hawk me your product.
You don’t need to fake a relationship with potential customers to sell your product, just build a real relationship with them instead.
Caring about customers sucks.
You have 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 every year just to get the new discount.
- Create a return policy PHD’s struggle to grasp.
- Send my call into phone tree purgatory.
- 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 and that 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 on going 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 the 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 just 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 actually give a shit about you and your business, well, that my friends, is when magic becomes real.
I am Ryan Hanley
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