Trust Me

Courtesy of The Financial Brand comes the story "A Failure of Trust:"

"On Thursday, September 4, an ad from Silver State Bank asked, “Why do so many of Nevada’s strongest businesses trust Silver State Bank?” The answer? “Security” and “protection.”

The next day, the bank was seized by federal and state regulators.…In the two months prior to the bank’s seizure, customers pulled $264 million of the $1.7 billion on deposit at Silver State."

There are no more trust-destroying words one can say than “trust me.” Googling “trust us” gets more than 5 million hits. Interestingly, well over half appear to be of the cynical phrasing, e.g. “Trust us, we’re experts: How Industry Manipulates Science."

In other words, most of us are “on” to the con.

Yet the self-delusion (and occasionally cynicism) continues. I periodically Google “your trusted advisor” to see who still thinks advertising “trust me” is a good strategy. I won’t name names—you can do it yourself: just search on “your trusted advisor” (don’t forget the quote marks), and decide for yourself whether the advertisers really are your trusted real estate agent, your trusted financial planner, your trusted land developer—or not.

Most people who use the term “trust” or “trust me” or “trusted advisor” in advertising mean well. In a few cases, they’re even right. But they miss the point.

The point is, it’s inherently contradictory to advertise your trustworthiness. It’s like bragging about your humility. Trust is supposed to be largely personal, and about serving the customer. Trust ads are intrinsically non-personal, and inherently self-serving.

George Burns once said, “Sincerity is the most important success factor; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” The joke lies in the implausibility of faking sincerity. Ditto for trust.

Unsolicited testimonials are fabulous. Solicited testimonials, quoted in mass media, are quite another thing. The difference lies in the motives.

Talking internally about how to be trusted is great; talking to clients about it is good to the extent you do it one on one, in small groups, with blank notepads and a willingness to learn. Talking to clients about trust via statistically valid online surveys that don’t let you expand on the “other” checkbox and that are designed solely to be converted into incentivized behaviors—not so much.

Trust advertising is a personally critical issue to me, given the name “Trusted Advisor Associates.” I need “trust” in the name to describe my content and subject matter, but I have on occasion cringed when a client went off-script and introduced me at a speech as “the trusted advisor.”

Our website always says “we help build trusted advisors…” and never “we are trusted advisors.” Even with that, we get occasional snide comments about the insincerity of calling ourselves “trusted advisors.”

I don’t blame them a bit. The currency of language is frequently debased in business (think ‘loyalty,’ ‘customer focus’).

Given the current state of cynicism about trust, the best any of us can do is to be careful about our own language, and to let our integrity and trustworthiness be their own advertisement.

After all—that’s how trust really gets built.

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  1. […] And for more information on this week’s Trust Tip Topic, you might also enjoy reading this blogpost. […]

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