A Marketing Company that Gets It on Trust

When I think of companies that "get" trust, marketing / advertising / communications / PR companies are not first to my mind. 

For one thing, trust is heavily personal, and marketing companies are largely forced to deal in one-to-many one-way communications. For another, the business can be very much about “the pitch,” and about one’s devotion to one’s creativity more than to the client. Finally, marketing companies are very much subjected to short-term performance analytics, resulting in a lack of emphasis on relationships.

So imagine my surprise—maybe even shock, certainly delight—when I got a call from the good people at Unit7. CEO Loreen Babcock says, “I’ve been thinking about trust for 4-5 years now—but it’s only recently that people seem to ‘get’ what I’ve been saying.”

The emphasis on trust is apparent throughout their website. You know about CRM (customer relationship management); they’ve trademarked TRM (Trust Relationship Management). As they put it, "Trust takes root when consumers feel listened to, deeply understood. ‘My concerns are your concerns.’" Exactly. Exactly.

Unit 7 also "gets" the relationship of collaboration to trust: "The world is changing too fast, there are too many touch opportunities for any single person to have all the answers."  Right again.

Babcock and the staff of Unit7 have also identified the value of empathy in the trust arena. They recognize the power of stories about trust—and have begun collecting them internally and sharing them with the world.

But what makes this different from just another ad spin, from thumbing a ride on the zeitgeist for kicks?

If you believe trust is personal, and that marketing companies need to be trusted by their clients (and their clients in turn by their own ultimate customers), then what can you do? 

Here’s what got me.

Unit7 is doing a campaign on Type 2 Diabetes. They offered the entire office’s staff a chance to participate in a program: to conduct their lives for 14 weeks as if each of them had Type II diabetes. 67% of the team took decided to participate.  Sticking your finger twice a day.  Exercise.  Passing up foods.  Living a life not under your control. 

It was hard. And everyone learned a lot. And everyone came to really understand, at least a just little, what it must be like to suffer from that disease.

The program is described in detail in They Feel Your Pain in BrandWeek. In that article, several marketers, including Seth Godin, criticize Unit7’s venture because "it’s impossible to empathize with someone who has diabetes…it’s disingenous…they can’t know what it’s like to walk everyday in the shoes of someone who could die from this disease." I couldn’t disagree more. The value of empathy in this world is precisely because of our inability to know another’s life directly. To call an attempt at empathy "disingenous" is to suggest there’s no point in my trying to empathize with women, or people of color. Empathy is what gives us a ladder out of our daily existential reality to connect with another unique and different humanoid on the planet. The issue is not whether we can gain total knowledge of another, but simply whether our attempts are sincere.

One of the fundamental principles of trust is that we trust those who we believe understand us. In fact, if we don’t believe they understand us, we don’t trust them. Call this "empathy" if you like. You can also find it in the old sales line, "People don’t care what you know until they know that you care."

This is powerful stuff. Unit7 have figured out that branding and trust need not be incompatible—the key is to trust the people behind the brand. Very much what I was trying to get at a month ago in “Is Brand Trust an Oxymoron.

Kudos to the folks at Unit 7. Doing the trust thing in the real world.