Trust in us, because we say so

Ever since I was a small child I’ve had an issue with people who say, “trust me”.

This dates back to an incident when I was four-years old. I was stuck up a tree in our garden and unable to climb down. My father assured me there was only one solution to my predicament: “Jump Greg,” he said. “I’ll catch you. It’ll be okay son.”

Seeing I wasn’t convinced, he added: “Trust me.”

And there they were — two magical words with the power to propel my leap of faith.

So jump I did.

Unfortunately, catch me my father did not. Instead, I plummeted to the ground with a loud thud. There I lay — limbs dislocated — with two words echoing inside my concussed cranium: “Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.”

None of this is actually true, but beyond reinforcing the position that you should always question what you read, the story serves to illustrate a larger point — that the main reason why we tell someone to trust us is because we worry that they don’t.

Furthermore, for many people trust is simply a hygiene issue. It’s a given. A business telling customers to trust them is like a restaurant marketing itself by saying: “Eat our clean food prepared in clean kitchens — no food poisoning here!”

This is where many brands are not only missing the point by telling people how their consumers, clients, team members and partners trust them, they could be doing damage by potentially undermining the public’s trust in them. That’s because saying “we are trustworthy”, or “our customers really trust us”, subconsciously seeds the question: “Why are they telling me to trust them — have they got something to hide?”

Of course, if you actually know people do not trust your business or industry, then repeating a few words will do little to resolve the situation. The louder you shout about it, the more it will fall on deaf ears.

Empty words

“Trust” is a much-overused word in today’s world of brand communications. Having effectively emptied itself of meaning, it happily sits alongside other forms of verbal glitter, such as “authenticity” and “thought leadership”.

Beyond their banality, these words share another key similarity — while they can be very powerful when other people use them to describe you or your business, they lose their power if you say them about yourself. Worse still, doing so can make you come across as arrogant or insincere.

Show, don’t tell

Companies and people can and should value trust. But it requires a light touch if you want your trustworthiness to really resonate with people in a meaningful way. An important first step is to see trust as an outcome, something that is earned. Trust has four components — psychologists differ in naming the components but they broadly represent the same areas: consistency, compassion, competency and communication.

People need to positively experience these trust components when they engage with your brand. Communications can amplify this by using stories to show positive engagements, but remember to be subtle.

More importantly, you can connect with people by creating content that adds value by helping them overcome problems and challenges, rather than trying to market or sell products and services. It’s a longer-term investment, but one that can build deeper relationships. And if they like what you say, they’ll come back to you when they need to.

Be like Voldermort

If you’re still thinking about focusing on trust in your brand communications, ask yourself first whether you really want to home in on something that many consider a hygiene factor instead of a more interesting, engaging and unique characteristic of your brand.

If you do decide “trust” is the way to go, be like Lord Voldermort, but in reverse. Harry Potter’s nemesis was known as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”. He gained power every time someone used his real name.

People will trust your company a little more each time someone else tells them about a positive trustworthy experience. Tell them yourself and that trust could disappear in a puff of smoke.

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