Why Getting Consumers to Trust Us Is Incredibly Hard
---Lee Marc Stein, direct marketing consultant and copywriter

Most direct marketers understand the importance of building credibility, particularly in acquisition efforts. Too many don't understand that it has become an incredibly difficult task.

Part of it is our own fault. The industry has used deception and subterfuge to get response at the expense of trust. In fact there is conflict within one of the classic formulas for creative success: AICDA. Great copywriter Milt Pierce added the “C” for “Build Credibility” a few decades ago.

The problem is that the way you accomplish the first “A” (Attract Attention) may severely limit your ability to build credibility.

However, much of the problem of generating trust is caused by societal trends.

In the old (pre-Enron) days, if your company had a name known across the country, that was your credibility. You didn't have to explain, prove your company's financial stability. If your company was not particularly well known, but you had a lot of money, the route was celebrity endorsement. Although that route is still favored by some, its disadvantages became apparent years ago.

(In 1978, working for an agency that had Funk & Wagnall's Wildlife Encyclopedia as an account, we negotiated with the very popular Grizzly Adams for an endorsement in our direct mail package. The test performed beautifully. Then 'ol Grizzly unfortunately free-based himself out of the limelight and out of our direct mail campaign.)

In the old days, dm packages and mail order ads carried sworn statements from auditors and accountants. Now, no one would believe those statements. So what's a company to do in the Age of Disbelief, in an era of "Icon-Toppling" as Faith Popcorn called it? That trend is still very much alive in 2008. Consumers don’t trust any institution; consumer confidence is down 20 points over last year.

Before she streamlined her web site, here were some of the implications of Icon-Toppling Ms. Popcorn shared:

• "Wilt Chamberlain expressed the essence of this Trend: 'No man roots for Goliath.'" So if you're an 'underdog' show your prospects how they benefit from that.

• "Skeptical consumers are ready to bring down the long-accepted monuments of business, government, celebrity and society."

• "Large companies no longer hold our trust. Corporate behemoths like AT&T, Amex, and IBM are scrambling to look small." So if you're a big company, show a human face, admit fallibility.

• "Forget celebrity spokespeople: ads now spotlight the unfamous, the wannabes and the who-was-that's – even a couple of Real People – to sell their wares."

• "A Yankelovich survey shows that customers trust friends above experts when it comes to product recommendations (65% trust friends, 27% trust experts, 8% trust celebrities)." You can't necessarily get a prospect's friends to give testimonials, but neighbors, even people in the same town, may help you build credibility. Use photos of the testimonial-givers, even if they're of poor quality.

One final thought: don't assume you know what it is that will build credibility among your various market segments. Talk to your prospects and ask. If you don't have the money for formal qualitative research, interact with them personally.

Source: Adapted by Lee Marc Stein from his book Street Smart Direct Marketing.




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