February 17

How giving useful ideas and secrets builds trust

Content Marketing


I had coffee with a potential partner, and our conversation ebbed to us talking about business philosophy, marketing, and lead generation. I talked about freely sharing ideas and helping people. He replied something like,  “I think companies [like yours] give away too many of their trade secrets on their website and blogs. They provide too much information freely. If I wanted to compete or copy you… all I would need to do is read your site or blog. The purpose of a website is to convert, to get people to respond, and generate leads.”

My response

Customers have a general lack of trust of brands, and they don’t want us to treat them as targets. If all we do is focus on getting a conversion and winning the sale, people will tune out or opt out.

Study brands like Slack, MailChimp and Drift. They freely give away ideas, tools, and resources. They focus on helping their customers having a great experience at every step of their journey.

We can learn from marketers like Dave Gerhardt at Drift. Gerhardt shares a story about how his CEO, David Cancel, called him one day and told him “I think we should get rid of our forms.” Read his post, Why We’re Throwing Out All Of Our Lead Forms And Making Content Free.

Gerhardt realized that marketing was becoming more about getting people to convert i.e. fill out forms or jump through the next hoop. According to Gerhardt, this results in us, “treating people like leads and email addresses instead of treating people like people.”

Use your empathy and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. People use the web and social media for research; they’re looking for fresh ideas, insight, and actionable information. That’s why you shouldn’t put your best thinking behind web forms and registration pages.

When you give people what they value or find useful without expecting anything in return, you build a connection and eventually trust.

My potential partner was still skeptical.

A lesson from NASCAR: The Driver not the car

I have a friend who is a huge NASCAR fan. He loves the competition because it’s more about the driver and team than the car. All the cars are pretty much the same. It’s the driver and the crew that make the difference. I think it’s like that with business today.

Most companies sell the same basic car. The driver and crew in this metaphor can be seen as your thought leadership, your ideas and ultimately how well you help your customers that set you apart from others. That’s what your clients remember. And today you’re features and benefits may stand out, but sooner than later everyone’s car has the same features or at least they claim they do.

This concept is particularity important for companies engaged in a complex sale, where up to 70% of a customer’s perception of your brand reputation comes from their interactions with your people. I believe that the individuals and companies who succeed today are those who learn faster and teach/help others with what they know more efficiently.

You can leverage some of your ideas to help people and build trust.

Forget the sales pitch 

Trust gets earned by being helpful, relevant and honest with your potential customer. Don’t worry about the sale pitch when you’re sharing ideas and focus on building trust. Remember what I said about “not expecting anything in return?” Your content or ideas should educate, and inform and be valuable even if people never buy from you. That’s the acid test. Those who find your ideas helpful and useful will be able to figure out that they can contact you and ask for more of what sparked their interest.

What happens to those that keep the ideas to themselves?

Jure Cuhalev has some great thoughts on giving away ideas and what happens when people hoard them. Cuhalev writes, “…I have a theory of what happens to them. They start losing their ability to produce new ideas since their current idea preoccupies them. They think about it all the time to the point that they cannot think of anything fresh.” I don’t disagree. When I give away ideas and content, I find that can come back to me improved.

Think like a designer. Give ideas away to improve them

David Kelly is the founder of IDEO and one of one of the most visible product designers in the world, especially in the world of high technology.  The following quotation from Kelly goes well beyond design. When you read it to replace “designers” with your role (i.e. CEO, Marketer, Seller and so on).

According to Kelly, “Successful designers just send out their vision to the world; and then, when somebody else builds on it, that’s okay. They’re not protective of their ideas because they’re so used to having ideas. A creative designer has an idea a minute. Publicizing an idea is a way to improve on the notion—someone else can build on it, expand it. If you’re fluent with ideas, as most design people are, you don’t have to be fearful. You don’t protect your one good idea because you’re afraid you’ll never have another good one.”

For example, Elon Musk and Tesla Motors (TSLA) are treating their patents as open source. For them it makes sense. When you can you can invent ideas faster than you can patent them, why not keep ahead by developing and sharing your ideas and secrets?

Again, it’s not the car. It’s the crew and driver.

You might also like:

101 simple ways to build trust

Big Ideas by Seth Godin

7 Ideas for Building Trust in Sales, Rain Selling Blog

The Designer’s Stance an interview with David Kelly, Stanford

Tesla Giving Away Its Patents Makes Sense

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Giving away ideas and insights to your potential customers could not just benefit them but also you. That’s why content marketing has been powerful. Business should not just settle for less, I believe that there’s always improvement for what we have and what we know. Others suggestions and comments could also help you grow and sight the things you lack. But most importantly, is the value and useful ideas you share to help. Make sure that it is credible because trust is a “big thing” in marketing.

  2. Nice article. Some years ago as a marketing manager we were beating our competitors senseless. It lot had to do with understanding how many leads a month each rep needed to make quota, and by the 25th of the month if they didn’t have enough we’d jump on it and created enough “make up qualified leads.” (Mail & telemarketing) An editor at a magazine asked our secret and I said we couldn’t talk about it. He said, “Come on Jim if you told them exactly how to do it they wouldn’t copy you exactly anyway. I wrote and article for him. He was right. It helped many people he said but nobody caught up to us. Share I say.

  3. Could not agree more. When my clients insist on “not giving away too much” in their marketing content, it winds up sounding vague and generic, with no explanation of what they do better than a competitor or what the customer could have done themselves. In the IT services field, where I do a lot of work, even a detailed description of WHAT the company did doesn’t equip a reader to do it themselves. The real secret sauce is how to cope with unpredictable technical and/or people issues. Describing in detail how you do that, IMHO, really whets the prospect’s appetite for more.

    More rant-like thoughts here… http://scheierassociates.com/2016/06/sharing-ip-content-marketing

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