Traditional marketing is big on the know — it’s all about creating awareness in the marketplace. Add in some clever messaging to prompt some level of liking, and mission accomplished, right?
It’s as if awareness of a brand is enough to spark trust. And it’s true — we do tend to prefer brands that we know, even if there’s no true difference between one product and a generic one.
But when it comes down to choosing between two or more brands, trust becomes critical. This is one of the benefits that content marketers have over competitors who don’t learn how to build trust in relationships — who don’t write better content and freely share valuable information.
And it can be a substantial benefit if done correctly.
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Why building trust in relationships is important
Building trust in relationships is important for content marketing because trust works on many levels:
- Do you do what you say you’re going to do?
- Are your products and services solid?
- Do you treat customers fairly?
- Will you be in business next year?
- Do you abide by the core values you claim?
Storyselling that touches on each of these over time helps prospects view you as not only trustworthy, but generous. Even selfless.
3 ways to build trust in a relationship
In terms of persuasion techniques dating back to the time of Aristotle, ethos is an appeal to the authority, honesty, and credibility of the person speaking or writing.
And that’s exactly how to build trust in relationships, when content marketing is done well.
Aristotle also thought that a key component of effective ethos was a combination of likability and selflessness, which he characterized as “disinterested goodwill.”
Disinterest here doesn’t mean you don’t care if you get a beneficial outcome — it means you serve your audience whether or not you get that benefit from any particular person.
The art of disinterested goodwill
When you give away quality content that’s so good you could have charged money for it, you’re acting with “disinterested goodwill.” That means your audience received value regardless of whether they ever pay you a dime.
It’s this very aspect of content marketing that makes it unacceptable to some business people who want to make a living online. The thought of providing something valuable to “freeloaders” just drives them nuts.
I’ve been giving away free, valuable content for more than 20 years, and all nine successful businesses I’ve started were powered by it. I have complete faith that I’m going to get benefits back — and the know, like, and trust I earn is the entire reason.
Just the act of performing content marketing triggers the power of disinterested goodwill. Lacking that, there are three techniques that professional writers use to achieve the same goal when learning how to build trust in relationships.
1. The “reluctant conclusion” technique
A classic persuasion technique is the “reluctant conclusion.” You share with your audience how you had a change of heart based on overwhelming evidence.
For example, you’ve recently raised the price of your digital products and discovered that it’s killing your sales.
You could just quietly change the price back and hope no one notices, but you’ll build more trust and goodwill with your audience if you explain that you were wrong about the price raise and will be reverting it.
Meanwhile, you’ve also met your goal of sparking dormant sales. It’s a win-win-win when you count the additional trust that you’ve built with your audience for future products and promotions.
2. The “personal sacrifice” approach
Another tactic is the “personal sacrifice” approach.
Yes, the free online workshop you’re doing on how to become a freelance writer could have been a paid product, but you’ve decided not to charge for it so you can help more people.
I’m sure you’ve seen this done many times before, with varying degrees of skill in the execution. The key to handling it well is, as always, to know your audience.
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3. The “Abraham Lincoln” technique
And finally there’s the “Abraham Lincoln” technique for learning how to build trust in relationships.
Lincoln was an unusual-looking guy with a hick accent and a whiny voice. When he gave speeches during his run for president, he added fuel to his personal fire by claiming to be a poor public speaker with nothing new to say.
And yet, Lincoln was a very bright man with an excellent grasp of the nation’s problems. He lowered expectations by presenting himself as a sincere fool, and by the end of a speech he had won the audience over completely.
So, if you’re a chiropractor who also does content marketing, it’s really easy to claim that you’re “no master copywriter,” even as you begin to deliver some damn persuasive writing. Again, you need to intimately know your audience to understand what’s appropriate when it comes to these things.
Which brings us to a completely different part of relationship building.
What’s in it for you?
If any of the three tactics above sounded hokey or even manipulative, you’re not alone. That doesn’t mean they don’t work to build trust with certain audiences; they just might not work on you.
That’s why I repeatedly say, “Know thy audience.” I don’t use those tactics on you, because I think I’d get a chorus of eye rolls. You’re more sophisticated about marketing ethics than a typical audience, so those approaches might hurt more than help.
Some marketers in our space have resorted to “radical transparency,” when considering how to build trust in relationships. The problem with that, especially when talking about revenue growth, is it can come across as bragging more than honesty.
And if things start going badly, you’ve got to maintain that transparency, which may actually reduce trust in your product or company.
My approach to building trust in relationships
My approach is to simply never be shy about saying what’s in it for me. It was a lesson I learned back in 2007.
I had been giving away valuable free content on Copyblogger for 18 months at that point. No product, no service, just relentless focus on serving and building the audience.
Then a strange thing started happening. I began getting emails from people who didn’t understand why I was giving everything away for free without asking for a sale.
It caught me off guard, but the people in my early audience were worried that they couldn’t trust my marketing story, because they didn’t understand what was in it for me. Color me shocked.
So, even though I still try to be as generous as possible, I never shy away from saying what’s in it for me. If we’re doing our jobs correctly, what’s in it for you should always come across as superior — which makes it a sales strategy as well.
For example, when we launch a new product that has special introductory pricing, we’re doing it for a reason beyond maximizing sales. We want feedback from our initial customers so we can rapidly improve the product.
So, we explain that in great detail. And it’s worked on both the sales and feedback level every time. The more potential for skepticism within your audience, the more you just come right out and tell the high-quality clients you’re trying to attract what the deal is — for both sides.
The most powerful way to establish yourself as a subject matter expert is to demonstrate your authority with your content rather than simply claim to be an expert. Learning how to build trust in relationships works the same way.
So, some of those ancient rhetorical tricks I’ve listed above are good to know, and if appropriate, you should work them in. But overall, serving your audience with the right valuable content is the best way to demonstrate your trustworthiness and establish true “disinterested goodwill.”
Other than that, the natural impulse to hide your economic motivations or business objectives is almost always a mistake. Realize that people increasingly think everyone is “on the take,” and your primary job is to assure your audience that you’re not.
Building trust is bigger than tactics — it’s your entire mission.