My fifth grade teacher had a motto about not trusting someone who says, “trust me.”

Mr. Rhodes was one of those quirky, unorthodox teachers you adore as a kid, the kind of teacher who grows larger in esteem as he grows smaller in the rearview mirror. He was a sharp guy who wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade, and his valuable lesson about thinking for yourself has served me well.

More and more, I realize how his simple advice applies to the marketing challenges our clients face today, as easy, instant access to news, peer reviews, and competitive information affects what customers are willing to believe about brands and products. Asking someone to accept your claims at face value doesn’t fly anymore. In fact, proving your claims has become a de facto challenge. Today’s customer wants to see you in action. They want to see what you’ve done for their peers. And ultimately, they are going to judge you more for your actions than your words. If you want to be worthy of their attention and dollars, you’ve got to shift “trust me” advertising messages toward honest reflections on your products, your customers, and yourselves.

The new buzzword for building the kind of trust you don’t have to blatantly ask for is transparency. For years, people have been talking about dialogue versus monologue, or the concept of reaching consumers with a one-on-one versus one-on-many strategy. And for just as long, we’ve been working hard to create stronger, more loyal connections with individual audiences, taking to the streets to deliver our messages about how our products and services, features and benefits solve real problems. So, what makes this idea of transparency so profoundly different? And how does an organization become more transparent?

The big difference is access. Customers aren’t waiting for you to come to the street anymore. It used to be that we could manage public perception simply by releasing into the world only the information we wanted to share. But consumers are no longer forced to accept or reject what we say about ourselves. Even more important, they don’t have to suffer through boring, unfocused, self-promoting propaganda, and they know it. If what you’re saying isn’t interesting, they can refuse to engage. They can turn you off in a millisecond.

Think about this for a moment: there are over 2 billion people connected to the Internet. 70% of them read blogs and 57% say they talk to others more often online than in real life. Scary social commentary aside, the way in which consumers validate brands has changed dramatically. Many of them no longer trust advertising, and search engines have become the go-to on-ramp for verification. It’s not enough to tout our 2.0 features and expect consumers to be just as appreciative as we are about our own stuff.  Sadly, it may not even be reasonable to assume there is enough attention span left to read what we’ve written about ourselves. And therein lies the secret.

Reaching consumers is not about traditional advertising anymore. Transparency requires a new openness, accessibility, and engagement. Is what you’re saying about yourself interesting, valuable, motivational, and/or entertaining? Because the value now is more about the way you deliver your rates than the fact that you can deliver a rate. The why is more important than the what. Are you communicating who you are and why someone should care? In a market where a potential customer can open a checking account anywhere, the financial institution that captures the imagination, the one our friends are raving about, the one willing to get real is the one that is going to stand out. And the one that doesn’t have to say “trust me” is likely to be the one we trust most. 

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