The news that the NSA has been involved in extensive secret domestic surveillance of US citizens for many years is certainly distressing, but is this news relevant to you as a small business owner? Absolutely – and not for the reasons you might think.
Let’s set aside the discussion about whether Uncle Sam is going over your business phone or email records. Instead, it’s important to focus on what these revelations mean to your customers.
Connections: Understanding the Value of Trust
Human beings are fairly unique in the animal kingdom in the way they form relationships. While most of our furry friends limit their associations to those they have a genetic connection with, human beings will engage with anyone. Throughout our lives, we interact with all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons – educational, social and professional. This requires the ability to trust.
As humans, not only can we trust, we want to trust. We crave the ability to rely on one another the way a dry cornfield thirsts for the rain. Our society – indeed, our species – could not exist as it does without the ability to depend on each other to act in the way we say we will. We’re hard-wired to value trust.
American’s trust in their government is being sorely tested. Even before the NSA secret surveillance program was revealed, the Pew Research Center, which has been tracking public trust in the government since 1958, reported that trust in the federal government remains mired at near historic all-time low levels. This scandal is not going to make the situation any better.
What the Lack of Trust Means to Your Small Business Messaging and Marketing
People’s need to trust will remain, even in the absence of social organizations that deserve that trust. That’s where your small business comes in.
In Ray Oldenburg’s seminal work, The Third Place, the social science researcher discussed how people, finding that their local neighborhoods weren’t filling their psychological needs for community and connection, found a substitute for the neighborhood experience. In other words, there’s a reason Starbucks became so popular, so fast. They sold coffee, sure, but their real product was a place where rootless individuals could feel like they belonged.
What we’re seeing right now is the opportunity for small business owners to capitalize on the public’s enduring hunger for trust. People are not going to endure a state of trust-deprivation for long. With the ability to trust their government absent, individuals will look for other social organizations that they feel they can rely on.
Making Trustworthiness The Cornerstone of Your Marketing Message
The fact that the public values trustworthiness in the brands they do business with is nothing new. There’s a reason L.L. Bean, General Mills, Tylenol, and Subaru occupy the position they do in the marketplace. These brands are considered trustworthy because they keep the promises they make to their customers.
As a small business owner, you need to know what type of promises you’re making to your customers. There are two types of promises: explicit and implicit. Explicit promises are those you articulate: guarantees, warranties, policies – even your slogans, tag lines and branding can be considered an explicit promise.
Implicit promises may never be spelled out. These are generalized assumptions your customers make about how your company will act, based on both your past behavior and branding. For example, a florist who discovers one of their arrangements went to the wrong Suzy Jones will make sure the right Suzy Jones gets a flower arrangement. This action is fulfilling the implicit promise that if a business makes a mistake, they’ll make it right.
The next step is to objectively assess how well you’re keeping your promises to your customer. Do you honor your guarantees? How well do you take care of your customers? Are you, seen by a disinterested party, a trustworthy business?
If you can answer yes to these questions, it’s time to make trustworthiness a central part of your current marketing strategy. An integrated approach that discusses trust on social media, your website, and traditional media is best.
Emphasizing that your company is dependable, reliable, and acts honorably will make it more appealing to the public who’s feeling discouraged and dismayed by a world that seems to grow more treacherous by the day. Understanding and meeting your customers’ needs is the gold standard for customer service, and right now, more than ever, your customers need to be able to trust someone.
Are you up for the job?
NSA logo by Electronic Frontier Foundation.