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How to Build a Business on Trust, Not Advertising

Build Your Business on Trust

Let me tell you a dirty little secret about advertising:

Less than 5% of the world cares about your ads.

And that’s generous. Say we have roughly 14% of US employment in advertising and marketing— you’d be lucky if even a fraction of those folks know about your ads or care about how much blood, sweat, and tears have gone into the creative execution of your latest online display ads. You care. Your agency cares. Your competitors might care. But who else?

Less than 30% of consumers trust advertising.

Where do you spend your marketing dollars? It’s easy to spend money on display ads. You know the costs, the conversion rates and the ROI, and you have full control over your message. But with so little care and so little trust, how can you connect with customers? How effective can your ads ever be? It’s a pretty bleak outlook if you ask me.

More than 90% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know.

Ah, the silver lining. We call it word of mouth, influencer marketing or advocacy. To use it effectively, you rely on people in your community (online or offline) or experts in your world to speak on your behalf. This can be scary for advertisers because they must give up control over what others are saying about your brand, outweighing your branded messages. It helps to realize that you never really had that control in the first place. You just didn’t see those conversations happening all around you.

So, you can buy influence or you can build trust.

What can you do to help people like you say good things about your organization? You can pay them or pay for “native advertising” to make it look like people are saying good things about you. The danger, of course, is that it’s a thin veil and your consumers will find out. People are smart and they value integrity. That’s why building trust is so important, however, it takes hard work. For businesses, I see trust stemming from 3 broad categories.

How to build trust in business:

1. Products and Services

Maybe this is a given, but you have to offer great products and services. ‘Good enough’ is simply not good enough, especially if you want others to talk about you. Work on how people feel about the experience of using your brand’s product or service. Way more than utility or price, customers value that experience, especially millennials.

2. Integrity and Engagement

Be ethical as a business. Take responsibility and don’t blame others or the world at large. Be vulnerable. Address issues by being open and transparent, avoid spin and obfuscation. Listen more, talk less.

3. Purpose and Operations

Place customers and the community you serve ahead of profits. Treat employees well and explain to them how you make money. Know and articulate your purpose and reasons for being in business. Communicate frequently.

A trusted business is one with great products and great experiences offered with integrity, openness, and purpose. You will earn a customer’s goodwill at many levels and will have no problems asking people to talk about you. Without this baseline of trust in your organization and the experiences you create, influencers can quickly become adversaries rather than advocates. The control of your message lies not in advertising, but in what you do to build trust and earn the loyalty of your customers. In the end, it’s this trust and loyalty that will make you profitable and successful.

Want to discuss building your business on trust? Email me –

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