Trust vs Price
We don’t talk enough about trust in branding.
When you launch, nobody has heard of you, nobody has a reason to hand you their money.
They might be curious – who are you, what are you after, what do you stand for, how can you help me.
But we’ve all been burned before.
Our tendency is to look for indicators, signs of credibility.
We do these subconsciously – they are genuinely helpful but saying them out loud would make us seem petty.
When my family would go out for a meal in the 90’s, my dad would instantly rule out anywhere with Laminex tables.
He didn’t want tablecloths, but he had a rule of thumb that said a place with Laminex tables was not the sort of place he wanted to go for dinner.
I do the same thing today with cafes – there are new ones popping up all the time, and they’re not all good.
I look for four things:
1. The coffee machine – it has to look clean and serious, preferably a brand I’ve seen at other good cafes.
2. The staff – the barista should be between 20 and 40 years old, and should look either confident or disinterested. Bonus points for t-shirts and tattoos.
3. The beans – good cafes proudly advertise and sell bags of the beans they use.
4. The sugar – bad cafes have sticks of sugar, average cafes have bowls of raw sugar, great cafes use rapadura sugar that looks like sand. If they’re serious about coffee, they’ll be serious about their sugar too.
You can spot all of these within 5 seconds, and my success rate is close to 100%.
Once I trust the café, I’ll happily spend $20 on brunch and $5 per takeaway coffee, and will make a deliberate effort to keep coming back.
A worse café offering 50% off the entire menu would not change my behaviour.
We call these little shortcuts “Heuristics”, and they’re our brain’s way of shortcutting the evaluation process.
Heuristics allow us to put things into tiers – levels of ranking that come with expected price ranges.
Without knowing the ins and outs of a new brand, by putting it in a certain tier we can make educated guesses about their prices, policies, quality, timeliness and attitude.
This means that my willingness to pay is not constant – it varies based on which tier I initially put you in.
And this is the challenge facing new businesses; how do you influence which tier you’re placed in?
We’ve looked before at the ways in which brands signal their superiority – by proximity to other credible companies, by celebrating their heritage or displaying their industry awards.
We’ve also looked at the ways in which brands use social proof – using aggregated reviews, boasting about market share, or incentivising existing customers to bring their friends.
And we’ve looked at the ways in which brands explain why they are cheap – using disdain for higher prices, hinting at trade secrets or wholesale pricing, or offering discounts for bulk purchases.
The point is, you’re going to need to reinforce this message as quickly as possible, usually in those first few seconds.
If I’ve only seen your shoes in outlet malls, it’s hard to believe that you’re a designer brand.
If you have an outdated website, it’s hard to believe you are a credible creative agency.
If I haven’t seen anyone else review your movie, I won’t pay $22 for a ticket.
If I google your name and can’t see your work, I won’t believe you’re a professional.
This goes the other way as well.
Once I trust the restaurant, I’ll order whatever the waiter says is good.
Once I trust the doctor, I’ll follow their advice even if it’s inconvenient.
Once I trust the graphic designer, I’ll change my brand and marketing strategy.
Once I trust the consultant, I’ll try whatever they recommend.
Once I trust the author, I’ll buy their next book sight unseen.
That makes trust incredibly lucrative.
It also makes your job easier.
Dave Trott tells a great story about plumbers and decorators – how we follow the decorator around the house second-guessing their opinions, whereas when the plumber shows up we give them space and accept all of their recommendations.
Which would you rather be?
If I were you, I’d be asking “What can I do to appear more trustworthy?”
Here are some ideas that can be easily implemented.
People trust their eye – we love to see photos of you, how you work, and what you make. Websites and Instagram are fantastic chances to put your best foot forward.
People like customer stories – how someone else was once a skeptic, but now trusts you wholeheartedly. These can be a collection of quotes or a handful of testimonials.
People like dotted i’s and crossed t’s – we demand a seamless experience, one without spelling errors and broken web links. When it’s done right, it’s invisible.
People like the wisdom of the crowd – we like a high Google/Amazon/IMDb rating. You can have a few average reviews thrown in, as perfect records tend to look fake.
People like browsing a well-made folio – one that showcases your best work and a range of projects. Consistently high quality makes us want to be your next proud case study.
Trust is the basis of influencer marketing – an old strategy that has become more and more prevalent through social media.
A trusted person can introduce your product to their audience, and if the product is genuinely good then everyone wins.
Customers find something they may not have seen before, the brand gets instant credibility, and the influencer gets paid – Kylie Jenner is reported to charge US$1m per post.
The influencer is framing which tier your brand is in, and their trust is contagious.
Of course this can backfire, if the product turns out to be insufficient then the brand and the influencer lose their audience’s trust.
Gary Vaynerchuk outlined his strategy for social media in Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.
The premise is that you offer your reader pieces of useful content (jabs) that are entertaining and beneficial.
After a series of these, you can then go for the sell (the right hook), that asks them to make a purchase.
Without the jabs thrown in, the right hook is too easy to predict, and customers hate brands that are only interested in extracting their money.
Jabs build trust, they let people know that you’re working in their best interest.
They are the basis of your social media output, and give you the ability to offer your services further down the track.
This brings us to price.
If you don’t have your customer’s trust, then discounts are irrelevant.
A business book at an op shop for $1 isn’t that appealing, unless I trust in the author.
The price isn’t the money, it’s also the investment of time and attention.
However, you can use discounting to add to your customer’s confidence.
e.g. Free returns or money back guarantees give people the confidence to try something they haven’t seen for themselves, because it removes buyer’s remorse.
Or maybe you make your first session free, delaying the paywall until after your customer decides if you’re right for them.
You’re also able to use discounts to establish your value, whilst lowering the bar to let each customer in.
That might mean setting your prices high (because that’s what you’re worth) and then dropping your rates for the clients you want (because that’s what they can afford).
Something expensive and on sale is often more desirable than something cheap.
How might you speed up your customers’ trust?
What changes could you make to your online presence?
What changes could you make to your products and services?
If customers trust you earlier, could you raise your prices?