Trust Erosion through Bad Messaging

Hank Barnes

Research Vice President, Tech Go-to-Market and Sales Strategies


By this point, it is fairly well known that trust in the organizations we do business with is not high.  The Edelman Trust Barometer tracks this on an annual basis.  Because of this lack of trust, technology buyers rely very heavily on the advice of independent third parties (influencers, analysts, peers, etc) as they making buying decisions.  The higher the perceived level of independence, the more the advice is trusted.

For technology providers, this presents a challenge.  Not only do they need to build awareness and interest with buyers, but they also need to cultivate influencers.  Furthermore, as they create messages, they need to remember that most of these will be viewed with a healthy (actually potentially unhealthy) level of skepticism.    This is an important lens to view your messages through.  “How will the skeptical buyer view this message?”

Before the rise of the Internet and Social Networking, sellers had much more control of information distribution.  You could make claims (like the standard claim that is in most press releases – “XYZ company, the leading provider of “whatever technology”) that could not easily be validated or invalidated.   As a result, marketing messaging was largely associated with “spin doctoring”–making everything sound great.

This does not work anymore.  Buyers can very quickly determine if your messages are valid, by doing their own research or reaching out to others via social connections.


Messaging, and marketing,  has to change to be more authentic.   Remember, you are already starting in a “trust hole.”  The wrong messages will only result in you digging it even deeper.   Here are a few of my favorite types of trust erosion messages:

  • Broad Targets – “Great for companies of any size, anywhere” – From a skeptical buyer view, the reaction is “that’s impossible.”
  • Inflated Claims – “We are the market leader” – with no substantiation, buyers wonder “why have I never heard of you” or quickly do some research to determine if it is true.
  • Definitive Generalizations – “The most capabilities on the market” – a broad statement that buyers quimmediately question.
  • Long Lists – “Here are our 15 differentiators” – buyers will pick apart with a variety of comparisons

See the pattern.   The broad claims and hyperbole, that may have worked in the past, don’t work anymore.  They do more harm than good.

How do you move away from this?

  • Instead of broad claims, be focused and authentic.
  • Be clear about your comparisons, not general.
  • Acknowledge “best fit” situations.
  • Consider including messaging for “situations where we are not the best option.”
  • Use stories that describe before and after scenarios.

Always review your messages through the lens of the distrustful buyer.   The more you help buyers clarify in their own mind how to evaluate and compare you, the better.   You’ll still have a trust gap, but you’ll be decreasing it rather than increasing it.

Jul 12, 2015