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Trust: Earning the Right to Ask

by Randall Craig on August 22, 2014

Filed in: Blog, Business Development, Growth, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Marketing

Tagged as: , , ,

How often have you walked in a shop, only to feel pressured into buying something you didn’t really want?  Perhaps you were at a restaurant, and the waiter actually sits down at your table, introduces himself, and asks for your order?

Or maybe you found yourself in the position I was in at a Danier Leather store late last year, with my two-month-old leather overcoat that had a piece of leather that had separated.  “Sir, you may leave your coat here, and we will send it to our head office for inspection.  They will determine if it even is a defect, and how much you would have to pay for repairs.”

In all three scenarios, there is a serious abuse of trust.  The high pressure salesperson doesn’t even try to earn it.  The waiter presumes too much.  And the clerk from Danier Leather did a great job destroying it. Trust is so slowly built, and so easily lost.  Why, then, do we persist in following the conventional digital marketing “wisdom” of ignoring these basics?

Back in 1999, I recall working on an ecommerce site which required registration to even look at the catalog.  While this Costco-esque strategy did seem to provide an aura of exclusivity, it quickly lost its luster when I pointed out that potential customers might actually want to browse before buying.  Hidden within this browsing behavior, however, was an even more important activity:  trust-building.  Without trust, you have not yet earned the right to ask for the sale.

Today, we see digital marketing techniques (such as “squeeze-page”) that also presume too much:  How many sites have you seen that exhort the reader to “Sign up for our promotional newsletter, and we’ll give you a free ebook.”

Unfortunately, this approach is completely backwards:  the marketer is asking for something – your contact details – without earning the right to do so.  Even worse, they are trying to bribe you (the so-called ethical bribe) to participate!  If the goal is to build trust, the “transaction” must be completely different: First give, then get.

1) Give the ebook away without requiring the “payment” of information.  This earns trust.

2) Get them to subscribe.  If they are interested (eg if they have qualified themselves as a prospect), ask them to sign up to receive more.  The higher the value, the more that the marketer can ask for: low value – email only.  Medium value – contact information and a few demographic qualifying questions.  Super high value – perhaps a credit card number.

No matter the currency paid, many digital marketers miss a critical third step.

3) Only send them what you have promised.

If you promised them a monthly newsletter, don’t send sales pitches.  If you promised event invitations, don’t send them the newsletter.  Promise-keepers build trust – and earn the right to ask.

This week’s action plan: Look at your website, and particularly your “free” offers: are you asking for payment upfront, or do you let users browse?  This week, build trust into your website by giving first, killing your squeeze pages, and seeing whether your content truly has value.  If it does, the user will let you know, loud and clear.

Marketing insight:  For a balanced approach, consider the example at  Instead of a squeeze page that promises everything and gives nothing, this page flips the equation around:

  • One paragraph intro:  If the person is interested in the value of this descriptive paragraph, they will begin reading the white paper itself, found conveniently below.
  • White paper:  The user can read the white paper online (or rather, one third of it) without paying with their contact details.
  • Web form:  Since they’ve already consumed a substantial sample of the actual content, they are now in a position to judge whether reading the remainder is worth it or not. The initial stages of trust have been built.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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