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Simple Jury Persuasion: Building Trust (but not) in Ten Easy Words

Friday, January 21, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

This is a pretty amazing yet simple and straightforward tool. We saw this idea at Neuromarketing blog in a post titled “Building Trust in Ten Easy Words” and went to find the original research to see the details so we could discuss it in the context of litigation advocacy. The Neuromarketing blog post counts out 10 words that increase trust by about 33%:

“You can trust us to do the job for you.”

They report that this simple statement placed at the end of an ad raised ratings on specific areas of performance: perception of fair price (7%); caring (11%); fair treatment (20%); quality (30%); and competency (33%). These numbers are pretty impressive. Most of the comments on the post are enthusiastic (even almost giddy) although a few caution they might use slightly different and more objectively measurable statements such as

“We built our business/clientele on this type of work”;

“90% of our customers rate our company as excellent”; and

“92% of first-time customers place another order within six months”.

When we went to the original article (Li & Miniard, 2006), we found some interesting findings in their literature review.

“Trust emerges only after direct contact and develops gradually over time. [snip] Little may be gained from advertisements that simply label a brand as untrustworthy or call for consumer’s trust in the brand.”

“Including a trust appeal within advertising may influence the thinking that occurs during processing. Its simple presence should encourage thoughts about the advertised brand’s trustworthiness.”

“Being a trusted brand implies certain characteristics: competency; perceptions of benevolence—i.e., they will act to do no harm and to protect consumer interests” (paraphrased for brevity).

Li & Miniard’s findings support the notion that the simple inclusion of an appeal for trust fosters more positive feelings toward the product. On the other hand, if the advertisement also contains information about the brand’s competency and benevolence, gains from a trust appeal are minimized.

The authors hypothesize that simply asserting objective evidence regarding competency and benevolence is as useful as an overt trust appeal.

They also address suspiciousness about advertising and suggest that in instances where a brand or product is disliked and the requests for “trust” could be seen as negative (or even ridiculous)—the more implicit request inherent in discussing measurable and objective variables (such as competency and benevolence) is a better way to go.  As an example, after seeing the torrent of good will advertising that BP has engaged in along the gulf coast in the last several months, we wonder how this research is playing out in the face of low trust and low belief in competence.

As we consider these findings in the context of litigation advocacy—we cannot help but think of the poll findings over the years about trust in lawyers. In the most recent Gallup Poll (2009) on sense of honesty and ethics among various professions:

“In addition to the clergy and bankers, ratings of stockbrokers have hit a new low, and ratings of business executives, members of Congress, and lawyers have tied their previous lows.”

We would imagine this qualifies as being a disliked/distrusted “brand”. So “trust me” appeals to a jury are likely unwise and ineffective. Thus, our recommendation, based on Li & Miniard’s work, would be to go for the implicit message of competency and benevolence. And how is that done?

One of our long-standing clients is an attorney whose courtroom persona displays intense sincerity, competence, and benevolence. He conveys concern about the jurors’ comfort, lets them know when evidence may be disturbing and tells them he will be as efficient and brief as possible in his presentation to them because their time is valuable.

His case presentation style is very transactional—he has a timeline of events and carefully works through that timeline telling the story in a very matter-of-fact yet compelling fashion. Jurors are able to draw their own conclusions as he walks them through the evidence.

And juries think he isn’t like other lawyers. He is respectful and he obviously cares about his client, his case, his professionalism, his jury, and the law. He is a poster boy for advertising competence and benevolence. And it works. (Trust us on that!)

Li, F., & Miniard, P. (2006). On the Potential for Advertising to Facilitate Trust in the Advertised Brand Journal of Advertising, 35 (4), 101-112 DOI: 10.2753/JOA0091-3367350407

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