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No Trust, Minimal Business Activity . . .

February 17, 2013

At the time I write this blog post, there is a great deal of “stuff” being thrown into the air, inked into headlines and typed into cyberspace about the so-called sequestration. This man-made “disaster” is, depending on who you listen to, “just what we need to at least begin putting our fiscal house in order”; or it is “an unmitigated disaster that will be ruinous for many folks still suffering from the last recession and will throw our country into yet another recession”. Most of the thoughtful people I know are paying little or no attention. The stock market all but yawned. It’s not news, but it seems that nobody I know believes the rhetoric on either side of this argument. It’s just rhetoric that the talking heads and pundits have long ago trained us to take with a whole bag of salt. There is no trust.

Trust in othersTrust. I find that this is fairly simple, yet conversations with others tells me that we’re not all on the same page when we use that word. To me trust, between us humans, is defined as I get that you authentically have my best interest at heart, not just your own. This is different than competence – your ability to perform a task. It’s different than predictability – as in I’m pretty sure you will respond a certain way in a given context. Yet we frequently say, “I trust you will do that job” or “I trust that you responded with a sigh.” To me that’s not what I mean by “trusting” another human being. I may very well trust you in that I believe that you have my best interest at heart, but I may still not recommend you for a particular task because I believe that you do not have the skills or knowledge required.

Further, I believe that no significant business will be “done” between people when there is no trust. Look around you. Do you “see” a lot of trust in the institutions that are important to our lives? Have we been trained to trust or to dis-trust? What about government? What about religious institutions and/or leaders (remember all the scandals in the various organized religious denominations.) How about advertisers and marketers? A November 2012 Gallup Poll indicated that there really isn’t very much trust in our institutions. I find this pretty dis-heartening, but it is “reality.” You can read the whole list for yourself at the link above. Let me just point out that starting with bankers for whom only 28% of the respondents rated as very high or high on the trust scale, we go down hill with journalists, business executives, state governors, lawyers, insurance salespeople, senators, HMO managers, stockbrokers, advertising practitioners,  members of Congress at 10% and car salespeople at 8%. How are we ever to conduct business when we have such a pervasive lack of trust?

Another question I have is how does this lack of trust affect your business model? Certainly this affects our advertising and sales model. I don’t think that I am all that different than most consumers out there and I can tell you that I do not pay any attention to advertisers (don’t tell them, let them spend the money!) When I search on the internet I almost never click on a paid or sponsored result. I like my free aps, so please don’t tell these guys how ineffective they are. When the subject comes up with my friends, they tell me the same thing, they don’t actually “see” the ads on their Gmail accounts!

What will you do about the ROI on advertising when all the measurements we make indicate that it is more and more ineffective? What will you substitute? To my way of thinking, we have no choice in this but to invest in our brands (that’s NOT advertising.) Investing in branding is much different than advertising and it is much more difficult to determine exactly what the ROI is in any short order. But what would you be willing to pay to have the respect and trust of some of the big brands we know – Johnson and Johnson, Coca-Cola, Timberland, Amazon, Apple, Walt Disney, Google, Whole Foods, Coscto, etc.

The formula seems simple to me. Stop investing so much in advertising. Figure out what you have to do to build a brand that people trust (they get that you AUTHENTICALLY have their best interest at heart, not just your own.) Today this means keeping up with technology such as social media platforms–tomorrow it may mean something different. This means providing value first and not selling. This means understanding that the very second someone “sniffs out” that you are trying to sell them something, you will most likely be “shut down.” What does all that do to your business model? How do you train salespeople? Do you need salespeople per se or is everyone in your company a brand manager? Food for thought.

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