Marketers and politicians alike rely on trust to do our work; to persuade.

That trust is entirely dependent on the vehicle used to deliver it - a brand, a media platform, an institution, an evangelist, or an advocate.

And in 2017, these vehicles of information are changing faster than ever. Buyers and citizens are faced with a challenging junction as they figure out who to trust, and who to discredit.

I recently presented a keynote at Bentley University during a conference on social media strategy. My presentation leaned heavily on the current state of trust - and the reason so many of us are now relying on each other for information.

It got me thinking...

The Inversion of Trust

Influence and authority today, in stark contrast to history, has moved to the masses, whereas both were "owned" by establishments like media, government, and businesses.


ource: Edelmen's Trust Barometer Report


Today, we don't trust the media.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.07 PM.png



Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


We don't trust businesses.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.29 PM.png


Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


And we certainly don't trust CEOs.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.45 PM.png


Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


Who do we trust, these days?

No surprise here... but we trust each other.

Specifically, Edelmen's research overwhelmingly found that we trust "people like me" as much as we trust technical / academic experts.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.13.06 PM.png

Source: Edelmen's Trust Barometer Report

Peers, above all.

This power shift has many implications, but it has certainly impacted the world of B2B marketing, forever.

This is illustrated in's recent series "How I Buy" from Steve Woods (you may recognize him from his Eloqua days, evangelizing Digital Body Language and setting the bar for enterprise SaaS technology.)

The series features in-depth interviews with executives discussing their personal buying process - where trust matters most. I love this content for the extremely valuable perspective it provides straight from discerning executive buyers. Thanks to the team at for pulling it together.

  • Jocelyn Brown, VP of Customer Success at Allocadia, says about her buying process, "within an hour I can have opinions from 5 or 6 trusted peers on something I am struggling with."
  • Jay Hedges, SVP Revenue at Uberflip says, "If we're on the fence we will ask around. References and case studies from the vendors are not really all that important."
  • Cheryl Kerrigan, VP of People at BlueCat explained in her interview, "I have access to a wide community of HR professionals in similar environments where we are constantly sharing our experiences with vendors and solutions... We have a Slack channel set up so we can ask questions and get responses in real time. I wouldn’t make a decision without asking them first."
  • Megan Eisenberg, CMO of MongoDB puts it succinctly with "...there's no hiding." She continues, "with access to a network of peers, the business world is becoming so much more transparent... Customer experience matters, and your ability to deliver to other CMOs like me matters."

Satisfying the herd mentality

In a way, this reliance on peers in an age of institutional distrust goes back to our most basic instincts.

"Conformity is inevitable" says psychologists, who argue that pressure to conform may not be experienced as pressure, but relief. Human beings survive only in highly coordinated groups.

Disapproval provokes the brain's danger circuits. Conformity soothes.

Using others to figure out what's going on can be a good thing. "Consultation, compromise, education, and information exchange are the levers of civilization."

But misinformation - look at the effect of propaganda - has obvious implications.

What this means for B2B

I know, drawing parallels from war propaganda to business is such a cliche, and a bit trite, but great marketing undeniably persuades in a similar way.

But here's the rub; what works today is drastically different because of this increase in mistrust. Marketers have shot ourselves in the foot by publishing volumes of our own "fake news" - hyperbole, exaggerations, and other bullsh*t.

No wonder buyers don't trust us.

We've conditioned buyers not to, meaning that today we all operate at a disadvantage when we work on behalf of any brand - that's simply the truth.

And this is the crux of our biggest challenge as marketers. As I wrote in a recent post, buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and brands they do not trust. 

Deciding who to trust.

Yet Peterson, the Robert L. Joss Consulting Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, wrote a book on this topic, The 10 Laws of Trust.

He provides three tests for deciding who to trust.

  1. Character “We can’t trust a leader without integrity, who we can’t count on to do what he or she says,” he explains.
  2. Competence. "You trust your mom, for example, but would you trust her to fly a 747 to London?"
  3. Authority to deliver. "There’s no point in trusting a pilot to fly to London if she doesn’t have permission to take off."

“It’s folly to trust anybody if all three aren’t present,” Peterson says.

Can we trust you?

I believe thought leadership is a powerful piece of our toolkit in an age of distrust. Done right, real thought leadership can increase faith in a company. 82% of execs say so according to a recent study.

But, the majority of companies are wildly missing the boat, as 56% of decision-makers say they do not gain valuable insights from what companies are purporting to be "thought leadership."

What a missed opportunity - and, frankly, inexcusable in an age of distrust.

Carlos Hidalgo and I recently had a conversation about what constitutes real thought leadership. He had just returned from an industry conference where he was disappointed in what he saw on stage. Read his full post on LinkedIn.

Carlos literally looked up "thought leadership" and found this from the Thought Leadership Lab:

"Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success." 

Carlos: "I believe sometimes innovation is simply doing it the right way. It is not all glitz and glamour. It is not always sexy, sometimes innovation is pretty boring, but it is what works and can truly create better results."

I couldn't help but agree with this sentiment -- I like to think of myself as a bit of realist about the true impact of marketing. Yes, it's powerful and persuasive, but it's also... still just marketing. The best I think we can do, as we present a better world for our buyers, is to remain firmly grounded in reality.

Distrust is a serious reality in our world that marketers all must be sober about, and willing to tackle head-on. 77% of consumers do not want a relationship with a brand. When they do have one, 64% say it's primarily because of shared values. Kind of like a marriage.

This, to me, is what our ultimate goal should be. To show buyers we can be trusted, that we share a common outlook, that we are fighting a common foe.

Anything else isn't trustworthy - it's just more of the same BS that got us into this mess in the first place.


Hear me speak more on this topic next week at INBOUND in my session "Find an Enemy: How the Right Foe Can Motivate Your Buyers to Action."



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