Bad Marketing 101: Trust Me!

Trust me!

Those are perhaps the two most trust-destroying words you can say. But look how often they get said.

Try googling the phrase “to be your trusted advisor.” I got 31,300 results when I checked just now.

Here are a few:

Our commitment to you is to be your trusted advisor and mortgage partner for life. Click here to access our Finance Tools. Click here to get Pre-Approved…

Our experience and depth of knowledge qualifies Telcordia to be your "Trusted Advisor" when you need an expert’s assistance

These florists blend their knowledge of flowers with an understanding of style to be your trusted advisor

And my personal favorite,

We have a unique understanding of your career needs and are uniquely positioned to be your trusted advisor.

Why does saying “trust me” accomplish the opposite? Because it violates social norms, and because it is self-contradictory.

Trust is personal—an outcome, not a come-on. On a first date, asking for either sex or for a very long-term relationship is likely to get you neither. “Trust me” is the business version—socially inappropriate, especially on the “first date” equivalent of the internet.

More importantly, “trusted advisor” is something you want others to say about you, not say it yourself. You can talk about it amongst yourselves, hope for it—but not proclaim it.

Saying you are, or want to be, someone’s trusted advisor, is like saying you are, or want to be, really humble.

But don’t trust me on it…

13 replies
  1. Dating blogger
    Dating blogger says:

    Thank you for a nice note)
    I think it’s a stable law of contradiction that generally means that if you say “Trust me” people will think the opposite. If you don’t ask for that, they’ll think “Why not”.

    Reply
  2. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Very well said.  The near-blasphemy of dubbing yourself "trusted advisor" reminds me of something I once learned about Hawaiian tradition — that the term "Big Kahuna" (referring to shaman, wise one, high priest) can *only* be bestowed on a person by the community; to take the title for yourself is simply not done.   (This came up in conversation when one colleague, who had lived and studied in Hawaii for years, reacted strongly to another colleague’s clever use of "Big Kahuna" in lieu of "President" on her business card).  

    So let’s have a little fun with your favorite web quote:  "We have a unique understanding of your career needs and are uniquely positioned to be your Big Kahuna." Kind of brings home the absurdity of  being a self-proclaimed Trusted Advisor.

    Reply
  3. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Good comments all. I’ll have to watch the Kahuna thing!

    Thanks to Tim for raising the issue of irony given my comments about "trust me" and the name of my business, Trusted Advisor Associates.

    I try very hard, for reasons Tim articulates, to make sure that I never ever identify myself or have others introduce or identify me as "The Trusted Advisor," or to identify my firm as "Trusted Advisors," for exactly the reason Tim points out.

    It is "Trusted Advisor Associates," not "Trusted Advisors." My business is to help others become trusted advisors, not to proclaim myself as one.

    Since trusted advisorship is the subject of the business, it feels important to have it in the title; nonetheless it does take some vigilance on my part to make sure I never transgress the verbal line outlined above.  That’s also one reason I’ve named the blog "Trust Matters" rather than something like "Trusted Advisor."

    It’s a shorthand many people do make anyway, but I try to politely discourage it when it does happen; and I’d certainly welcome suggestions about how to make sure I don’t appear as saying "trust me!" Thanks Tim for the comment.

    Reply
  4. Rod
    Rod says:

    I agree too. Well said. Reminds me of other statements, "our employees are our most valuable assets", or "we are a customer – focussed organisation". 

    Reply
  5. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Charlie: A couple of thoughts:

    • Seems to me the term "trusted advisor" should be stored under the department of redundancy department. Joking aside, if one is asked or "entrusted" to advise another, can’t we assume that they are being trusted, even if we discount the advice???? We don’t knowingly solicit advice from people we don’t trust – do we?
    • Second point: I think of the mis and overused expression, "Trusted Advisor", as just another symtom of our "silver bullet" mentality. Someone realizes that something  proposed in a professional journal /book or something said about a competitor’s organization either : sounds good or appears to work and suddenly, ipso facto…they’re all using the terminology and, based upon the usage in the marketing brochures or the newly crafted sales pitches, all of the employees seem to morph overnight into whatever the desired state is.  If only…Then after a period of time (when the organization realizes that the latest silver bullet isn’t the salvation they thought it was) – they move on to some other "methodology du jour". It goes without saying that the consultant/sales person that openly states, "I want to be your trusted advisor" not only doesn’t comprehend the concept but is actually insulting the intelligence of the client and helping out the competition.
    • Last point: To be fair there is something a tad ironic about your business’ name. Having said that, I can’t imagine anyone more qualified or deserving (than you) to leverage the terminology:  based upon your years of work, research, consulting, preaching, writing articles, books, etc. Charlie, no one could ever call you a "Johnnie come lately". You’re not jumping on the bandwagon… you helped to create it! 
    Reply
  6. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Thanks Rod and Barbara.  Yes, sigh, we do live in an age of instant commoditization.  No matter how clean the idea, it doesn’t take long to flog it to death as the latest "silver bullet" as Barbara says.

    And sadly, some of that has happened with "trusted advisor," as Rod points out (especially "customer focused").

    But hey Barbara, at least I can say I (co)-"wrote the book on it!"  Thanks

    Reply
  7. Ron E.
    Ron E. says:

    Hey, thanks for this cool post. I especially liked your "ask for sex on a first date" analogy- that’ll make it work!

    But yes, you’re so right. So many companies throw the "trust" word out thinking that’s all consumers need to hear from them.

    "You can trust us", and they’ll be pouring in by the numbers.

    Thanks,

    Ron.

    Reply
  8. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    The name of the blog is "trust matters," as it says on the RSS feed logo top left.

    This is specifically to avoid the implied sense of "trust me."  But, the name doesn’t always succeed in that objective.  We have all become very suspicious of most uses of that word; and rightly so.

    Reply
  9. Ian Au Contraire
    Ian Au Contraire says:

    The real crime here is the dreadful marketing copy! Just wretched, uninspiring "me too" messaging that does nothing to distinguish the company/brand or connect with the audience. And who the hell wants their florist to be their "trusted advisor?’

    Reply

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  1. […] to saying “We’re winners of the most humble award.” The act of saying it negates it. The most trust-destroying words you can say are, “Trust […]

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