Back when I started my current practice in 2007, I had been away from entrepreneurial endeavours and marketing for a few years having spent the past 8 years in the educational sector. When I returned to the world of business, everything had changed. In the late 90s, having an online business simply meant having a website. In the ‘old days’, I had designed my first websites from scratch using HTML code. But now, I was met head-on with the bewildering world of high-speed Internet and Web 2.0, which released the techno revolution of social media, blogging, video streaming, podcasting, RSS, digital downloads and email marketing. Suddenly, there was a whole new world open to business owners, with seemingly limitless possibilities.
But along with these possibilities came equally formidable challenges. Many new business owners encountered a steep learning curve when trying to get their heads around these new technologies and I think I was luckier than most, as I had come from a technical background. My MA was in Distance Learning so I knew all about designing online content. I had run a computer-based recording studio and had taught music tech and trained teachers in e-learning for many years, so technology was already part of my psyche.
However, what was new to me – and I assume for most others entering the scene at that time – was the ethos of online marketing. Simply having a ‘brochure’ website with your contact details on it was no longer effective. Sales pages and mailing lists had become popular and this opened up a whole new set of challenges: Why do I need a sales page? When do I need to make one? How do I structure it? What do I say on it?
The Old-School Sales Page Formula
To answer these questions, I started studying many different models of online marketing and for writing marketing copy. To my eyes, all sales pages looked pretty much the same, and I felt like all the ‘gurus’ were preaching more or less the same thing in a variety of different packages. There was a formula to sales pages that went something like this:
- Start with a big red screaming headline
- Create a feeling of pain or loss in the reader
- Show how you’re the answer to the pain
- Instil ‘trust’ by giving a long list of testimonials as ‘social proof’
- Go on and on, reminding readers of their pain and make them desperate to get rid of it
- Toss in some more social proof to build more trust (but don’t show the price yet!)
- Give a hyped-up money-back-guarantee to build more trust
- THEN slam them with the price
- THEN slash the price and tell them they can get it for some ridiculously low discount if they buy it now… ‘if you don’t click away from this page!’
- THEN give more testimonials
- THEN repeat the offer
- THEN, after they buy, create FEAR in them by trying to get them to multi-buy or buy additional products so they ‘don’t lose out’, etc.
- THEN, add them to a mailing list and start bombarding them with emails.
Well, as you might imagine, the more I learned about the ‘formula’ of sales pages, the less I liked it. While formulae can often be useful starting points, I think you’ll agree that this model – which is still pretty much the ‘industry standard’ in 2014 – is extremely manipulative. At its core, the one thing that enables this sales page formula to be so manipulative is that it removes two crucial elements from the picture:
- Who I really am
- Who my customer really is
There are no human beings in this formula, only generalisations and assumptions. You ‘assume’ that your readers will respond to your triggers. You assume that they will trust you if you provide them with the social proof of testimonials. The problem is that using social proof in this way is not coming from a place of genuine trustworthiness, but from a place of wishing to influence and persuade the faceless, nameless, personality-less reader to trust you.
And here’s the great irony of this approach to marketing: when you remove the PEOPLE from the picture, you are also removing the RELATIONSHIP between them. And…
When people and relationships are absent from your marketing,
there is NO possibility of genuine trust existing
between you and your customers.
Why ‘Trust Hype’ Fails to Build Trust
As a conscious consumer, I read online reviews meticulously before I buy a product. I see product reviews as a kind of ‘referral’ from one customer to another. As such, testimonials are viable tools for marketers, as they serve much the same purpose. However, I feel there is a point at which testimonials – as in the case of the afore-mentioned sales page formula – become ‘trust hype’ rather than trust inducing. I don’t know about you, but when I see endless testimonials on a sales page, I start to roll my eyes and say, ‘Yadda, yadda, yadda. Ok, I get it, already. Yeah, you’re great; you’re wonderful; everyone loves you. Now, would you kindly get to the point, and tell me something useful that I want to know?’
The ‘Trust Hype’ of testimonials often does more to erode my trust in a company than establish it. Here’s why I believe this is the case:
- The testimonials are often very general without providing any specific details about the benefits the person received. Thus, they feel more like a display of ego than of anything I, as a consumer, can actually use to help me make my decision.
- They are often highly repetitive, making them a bore to read.
- They tend to be full of salesy, hyped-up language, making me suspicious of their authenticity (and leaving me with an icky feeling!).
- The ‘shadier’ sales pages don’t provide full information about the person who allegedly wrote the testimonial. If I can’t see the person’s name and a link to their website or online profile, how do I know they even exist?
- When someone keeps saying (either explicitly or implicitly), ‘Trust me! Trust me! Trust me!’, I start to get suspicious. If someone is working really hard trying to get me to trust them, I feel manipulated. And if someone makes me feel manipulated, I’m certainly not going to trust them. To paraphrase Hamlet, it becomes a case of ‘Methinks the marketer doth persuade too much.’
- And finally, getting back to the issue of relationships, if I don’t know this person (or any of the alleged ‘referrers’) from Adam, how do all these testimonials actually build trust? Trust doesn’t come from a few hyped-up words; it comes either from having a trusting relationship with a person OR from a ‘trusted’ referral from someone with whom we have a long-term relationship.
What Your Customers Really Want to Trust about You
When it comes right down to it, customers don’t really care much about all your accolades. They will be more likely to trust you when they see concrete evidence of your trustworthiness. I believe this trustworthiness boils down to 3 simple things:
1. Customers want to know that you are honest
As already discussed, ‘trust hype’ assures people of your honesty. If anything, it makes them more wary. Also, people will always feel uncomfortable when they are confronted with marketing that is very ‘hard sell’.
The only real way for our customers to come to trust our honesty is TO BE HONEST. Commit yourself to being honest, gracious and customer-focused. With time, you’ll develop a reputation as a person of integrity. Obviously, if you’re just starting out, you’ll just have to be patient. Don’t be tempted to take short-cuts because they WILL backfire on you.
Of course it’s perfectly fine to ask past clients/customers for reviews, testimonials, etc., but make sure they provide details that may be useful to future customers. In other words, the testimonials shouldn’t be all about how great you are, but all about the customer’s personal experience. Taking the spotlight off yourself and shining it on your customers is a much more effective way to demonstrate your honesty than saying, ‘You should trust me because I’m wonderful.’
2. Customers want to know that you ‘know your stuff’
As a consumer, I want to know that the business I’m considering has knowledge and expertise. Personally, I don’t believe that level of confidence can come from a sales page. Sales page marketers tend to ‘tell’ people that they knew their stuff by citing all their qualifications, awards and media appearances. Again, I feel this is ‘trust hype’. After all, there’s no real way for the reader to validate all these claims in the moment. And because we’re being ‘told’ what we’re supposed to think about the marketer rather than being given the tools to evaluate them for ourselves, we are being manipulated and depersonalised, rather than empowered and respected.
I believe the best way to cultivate confidence in your expertise is through long-term projects, such as blogging, ‘vlogging’, podcasting, etc. This way, your audience can get a full range of your ideas, advice and perspectives. Then, THEY can be the judge as to whether or not you ‘know your stuff’. And when your audience has made their own decision about you – rather than feeling like you ‘told’ them what to think – they will feel much more confident in your trustworthiness and more likely to ‘stay’ with you in the long term.
3. Customers want to know you’re not going to disappear
Remember the old stories of the 19th Century carpetbaggers who pass through town selling magic elixirs that were supposed to cure all ills? Of course, once the customers handed over their hard-earned cash, the carpetbagger made sure to leave town before people came demanding their money back when they discovered the so-called magic elixir (otherwise known as ‘snake oil’) did nothing whatsoever to cure their ailments.
Internet marketers today are a lot like the carpetbaggers of yore. They make lots of over-blown promises, but there’s no way to KNOW that they’re going to be around if and when you a) need more product or b) want a refund. If people feel like you’re a ‘flight risk’ they’re unlikely to invest money in you.
Anyone who is committed to being an ethical business owner and ethical marketer needs to be able to demonstrate reliability and consistency. Again, this level of trust is not something that comes through pretty words on a flashy webpage, but through long-term behaviour and reputation. Again, I believe the ‘slow burn’ of regular blogging combined with social media goes a long way to establishing this level of trust in your potential customers.
Keeping the Fire Alive on the Hearth of Trust
Trust is probably the most important ingredient in business success. You can have the best product or service on the planet, but without customers who trust you, you simply don’t have a business. So I find it astonishing that so many marketers have been taught that trust can be bought with a few cheap testimonials on highly-manipulative ‘high conversion’ sales pages, rather than focusing on building high-quality, long-term relationships with our audience.
All relationships are long-term projects. To be a good spouse, parent, friend, or any other role, requires a lifetime commitment to ensuring our relationship is healthy and loving. We’ve all had experiences when trust breaks down and damages (or even destroys) a relationship that was precious to us. We come to learn that, if a relationship is to thrive, it requires our care, attention and commitment. Just as families in the old days used to have to ensure that the fire on the hearth was always burning, we too have to stoke the flames of our relationships so they don’t burn out. And one of the most important ‘flames’ in our relationship-hearth is Trust.
The relationship between businesses and customers is no different. If we market our businesses with a ‘fly by night’ attitude, imagining that a flashy sales page and some high-energy Tweets will build our entrepreneurial empire, we will be sadly disappointed. We might make some quick sales here and there, but our flames will constantly be running out (i.e. our customers will not remain with us or refer us), and we’ll find ourselves expending greater and greater amounts of energy to ignite new flames (i.e. to find new customers).
Because of this, when I work with clients, I take the slow-burning approach. I focus on ‘platform building’ – which is really just the technological component to online relationship building – primarily through the vehicles of blogging and social media. If you’re a business owner seeking to cultivate your online relationships and to build trust with your audience, try using this approach for the next 6 months, and see what a difference it makes to your business.
And, of course, if you’d like to explore our 7 Graces Platform Building Packages, you can CLICK HERE to read all about them. Then, if you think this approach would be good for your ethical enterprise, there’s a link on that page that will take you to our online booking system, where you can set up a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs.
21st March 2014
P.S.: Happy Spring to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.
Like this blog?
Then please subscribe using the form at the upper right side of this page, so you can receive our articles to your inbox.
You can help subsidise ethical marketing training courses for young social entrepreneurs in need. Just subscribe to the blog on Amazon for 99 cents a month (77p UK), and you’ll receive all our articles delivered directly to your Kindle device. All profits go to our 7 Graces Scholarship Fund. You can take a 14-day free trial before you decide. You’ll get a new article 2 or 3 times per week. Check it out at Amazon US or Amazon UK.
Looking for a Tribe?
Come join our 7 Graces group on Facebook, and join us at our monthly meetings. They’re free to attend and we have them both in person and online, so you can participate from anywhere in the world. This is NOT a “business group” but an active community where people actually know and support each other.
Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)