How to Win Back Customers’ Trust

(Episode 2 of 2 with Stephen Denny)

How to Win Back Customers’ Trust

Welcome back to another episode with Stephen Denny. In the last episode, we discussed four chapters from his book Killing Giants to help us beat our giant competitors. In today’s episode, we’ll discuss his new book, Unfiltered Marketing: 5 Rules to Win Back Trust, Credibility, and Customers in a Digitally Distracted World.

Unfiltered Marketing explores the impact of technology on culture and what business leaders need to do to win in this noisy environment. Today, we’re going to look at three key principles Stephen shares in his book to help us win back trust, credibility, and customers.

Losing Trust and Credibility

One of the biggest business tectonic shifts we are seeing in today’s marketplace is the growing lack of trust. “We are in the 21st century now, in this info-immersive, technologically, blinding culture that we live in, and the first casualty is trust,” Stephen said. “And there’s a great reason for that.”

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With smartphones, we have the capability to snap a photo or take a video and post it on social media, reaching an audience of millions in seconds. It is hard to be a hero when everyone has a camera in their pocket. Businesses are caught in lies or simple mistakes that can destroy their credibility and their customers’ trust in moments. As a result, trust and credibility are at an all-time low.

If we want to win in today’s market, we first have to accept the fact that customers are less trusting. “It’s hard to hide when we have many ways of capturing information in off guarded moments. Trust has collapsed,” Stephen said. “As a result, those companies that are beginning to win in this environment are those that acknowledge this.”

So how do we gain trust and credibility back? Stephen shared three ways we can do this.

1. Gain and Give Control

Unfiltered Marketing seized three big ideas out of a five-year study on the intersection of culture and technology. Stephen found that in an age of collapsing trust, we first need to seek control in an out of control world. This doesn’t just mean gaining back trust. It means actively taking steps to gain some sense of control over our lives and giving that control to our customers as well. 

When Stephen asked people if they would cover the webcam on their laptop, he found that 42% of Americans cover the webcam on their laptop. This is because we have lost trust. Not only that, but by covering up the webcam, Americans are seeking control in new ways since we feel we have lost control.

“If our customers . . . are feeling this lack of trust and are seeking ways to wrest some control back in their lives, the best possible thing we can do is to very effectively push control back into their hands,” Stephen said. “Let them make decisions; give them the ability to affect their own outcomes; give them closure.”

We should give our customers the ability to make their own choices so they feel in control. We should give them options. 

Amazon does this by giving its customers tracking numbers. Tracking numbers give customers a sense of closure and control in a way since they can watch the process happen; it’s no longer a mystery completely out of their hands. They don’t have to wonder when their package will come. They can see where it is in the process. Many recurring revenue platforms also give their customers multiple subscription options that include different prices for different features.

2. Be Raw

“Because we’re living in this age of collapsing trust, because we’re seeking control in an out of control world, the only thing we now trust is ourselves,” Stephen said. “We do not want traditional gatekeepers telling us what to believe because we’ve caught them lying to us too many times. . . . As a result, we want to see the proof ourselves.”

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Our customers have a greater understanding of our brand and business than ever before since they have access to the internet. They don’t want us trying to sell ourselves in perfect lighting. They crave trust, trust they can only give if we are real and raw with them. 

This trend has made entrepreneurs rethink their marketing strategies and tactics. Instead of using advertisements, maybe we should spend more time creating content on social media. We can create “raw” content by showing the process of how our products are made. We can share the real stories of who we are and how our brand came to be. 

With the craving for “raw” content, we see the increasing popularity of raw feeds, live streams, email dumps, published data, etc. Customers don’t just want the results, they want to see the data. We want the real, unedited and unaltered aspects of a business. Live streams do this so well since they can’t be edited beforehand. 

Companies have also realized that they no longer need to be the perfect hero in their own story. We aren’t the protagonist. Instead, we are standing beside our customers and our audience. We are looking out together. 

Traditionally, companies have told their customers what to see and what to believe. We did this through advertisements and commercials. Now, however, we need to get to our customers’ level and show them, not tell them.

“We’re standing shoulder to shoulder, beside our market, our customers, our audience,” Stephen said. “That’s a huge shift in perspective. . . . [Being] raw has sort of swept over [and] become a mainstream idea.”

3. Use Heroic Credibility 

Customers are attracted to brands that align with their values and beliefs. They want to see a brand that donates to a good cause or stands up for something important. Heroic credibility is our ability to align our brand with something our customers value in an area we are credible. Stephen explained that brand alignment has become a double-edged sword. 

“We’re still willing to follow a brand candidate, but they have to really be attracting us at a value level,” Stephen said. “Brand values alignment, that emotional connection, is critically important. [However,] you have to be unarguably, unequivocally credible as to what you’re attaching your brand to, or you will be torn to shreds by the same social media wolf pack that you were hoping to marshal to your cause.”

Brands often think they need to make a statement about every pressing cause there is today, whether it’s stating their political stance or where they stand in a social movement. However, Stephen explained that making a statement about any cause we believe in can actually be damaging to our brand. He believes that very few brands actually need to make a statement. 

“There’s a certain lemon light quality right now to C suites across the United States, that they have to make statements about social and political issues where they have zero credibility to do so,” Stephen said. “They’re going to get a passive eye roll from the market at best, and they’re going to lose business at worst.”

For example, Patagonia sells outdoor clothing. They have clearly made their brand about protecting the earth and enjoying nature. If they make a statement about climate change or a piece of legislature to protect land, this will increase their credibility since it aligns with who they are. 

In 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation to cut Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half. Patagonia joined a coalition to challenge this action. This helped build their heroic credibility since they stood up for a cause that aligns with their brand and their customers’ values.

On the other hand, if Patagonia were to make a statement about which political candidate they were voting for or where they stand on other political issues, they would most likely lose customers since they don’t have credibility to make statements on these issues. 

North Face once refused to work with or affiliate themselves with anyone who works in the fossil fuel industry and refused to provide clothing to a company in that industry. When this happened, Chris Wright, the CEO of an Oilfield Service, launched a campaign against the company, since North Face relies on oil and gas companies for a lot of their clothing products. One of Wright’s billboards said, “That North Face puffer looks great on you. And it was made from fossil fuels.” This made North Face look very foolish and lowered their credibility. We have to be very careful about what we choose to make statements on. 

“Heroic credibility is critically important for us to wrestle with because we have to be ruthlessly clear on how we’re attaching our brands to ideas bigger than ourselves,” Stephen said. “Customers want brands that stand for something more than just the narrow confines of their category, but it has to be carefully defined. This cannot be a passion project. . . . If it has nothing to do with the brand, you run enormous risks of hemorrhaging goodwill and brand equity.”

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Stephen for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. We are in the 21st century, in this info-immersive and technologically advanced culture, where the first casualty is trust.
  2. We can gain customers’ trust by giving them control in an out of control world. We can do this by giving them choices and options. 
  3. Customers want real and raw content. 
  4. Companies no longer need to be the perfect hero in their own story. We aren’t the protagonist. Instead, we are standing beside our customers and our audience. 
  5. Brand values alignment is critically important, but we need to be credible with what we’re attaching our brand to or we will lose trust and credibility. 

Connect with Stephen

To learn more about or connect with Stephen:

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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