How to Create Opportunity, Build Trust, and Stay Top of Mind With Your Audience
In my career, I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting what content marketing is and how we as leaders and marketers can use content to develop meaningful connections with the audiences that matter most to us.
To me, content isn’t only a creative outlet, and it’s more than just another marketing tactic. It’s about sharing your unique ideas and knowledge in a way that actually helps other people and builds trustworthy relationships.
In my new book Top of Mind, I explore what it takes to grow your business using content to build trust, scale relationships, and become — you guessed it — top of mind with your audiences. Below is an excerpt from my book that explores how content can increase trust in your brand.
What Consumers Look For in Brands They Trust
It wasn’t long ago that my company Influence & Co. was a young startup. Those early days were a sleepless rollercoaster of excitement and frustration. As a new entrepreneur, I was blindsided by the emotional intensity of it all. One memory sticks out as both a little traumatic and incredibly formative.
I was attending a networking session at one of my first conferences, and I didn’t know a single person there. With my background in sales and experience in real estate, however, I thought I’d still have a shot at schmoozing my way to some success.
But something wasn’t working. I was getting stonewalled—not just by one or two people but by everyone. I couldn’t connect for the life of me. The sense of not being able to get through to a single person was overwhelming.
All of a sudden, I felt the same defeated feeling you might have experienced in your middle school gym class playing dodgeball, when the team captains are down to two remaining options: you and another kid. You’re hoping the captain calls your name so you’re not left standing there alone and embarrassed, but right in front of you and all of your peers, he calls on the other kid instead. You’re left feeling like an outcast, and you give up before the game even starts.
Once I left the event, I called my wife. After a minute of doing my best to put a positive spin on what I’d just experienced, I broke down. I remember talking to her with tears in my eyes, struggling to be honest about how things weren’t going well. We had poured all of our energy and emotion into this company, only to discover that we’d launched in an industry devoid of opportunity. It was a hopeless, desperate feeling.
Looking back on that phone call now, I cringe a bit. Embarrassing, humiliating, kind of dramatic—not exactly feelings I like to relive. But I also feel a sense of gratitude. As awful as it was, that experience forced me to look at my opportunity from a different perspective.
Why couldn’t I connect? Why was everyone so guarded? The answer was simple: because nobody trusted me. No one even knew who I was. It wasn’t enough to be charming. I walked into a roomful of strangers (most of whom already knew one another and had done business together) with nothing to show that I was worthy of their trust. I was just another random guy making a cold pitch—the human equivalent of a pop-up ad.
As I thought more about it, I realized my despair was misplaced. Our industry wasn’t some barren wasteland without opportunity; there were too many success stories for that to be the case. The truth was that the field was brimming with endless opportunity—but all of it was locked up behind a giant wall of distrust.
I learned that these trust barriers exist everywhere, in every field or niche or position level or company size. And they’re the biggest factor that prevents you from building relationships with the audiences you’re trying to reach.
I was just another random guy making a cold pitch—the human equivalent of a pop-up ad.
My whole founding team at Influence & Co. dealt with similar situations. Brent Beshore, the CEO of our holding company, faced barriers when he had to earn the trust of the new companies he was prepared to invest in. My co-founder Kelsey Meyer, meanwhile, struggled to be taken seriously as a young entrepreneur.
When I talked to a friend of mine about the struggles he faced as an experienced salesperson switching industries, he told me about his troubles building a solid client list. Even though he had experience and knew what he was doing, no one in this new industry knew that about him. They weren’t familiar with him at all.
My brother had the same problem: He started a law practice and tried to attract the right partners. No one was beating down his office door demanding to work with him. He had to build trust with his audience before he could get anywhere.
All this is to say that my situation at this conference was not unique. Everyone deals with trust barriers, not just my fellow marketing, branding, and PR peers. After we came to this revelation while scrambling to survive the launch stage, we began contemplating a set of questions that were as complex as they were simple:
What is trust?
What does it mean to be trustworthy?
Why do people trust each other?
My first lesson was to stop thinking about trust as if it were an inanimate object. Trust is a living, breathing, emotional bond that connects people to one another. It’s intimate, personal, and powerful. In a world where it seems like everyone is out to pitch, scam, or screw you, it is also a rare and precious commodity.
Trust exists on a spectrum. The degree to which you trust someone determines how far you’ll stick your neck out for her or him. To overcome barriers of distrust, it’s not enough just to be a trustworthy person—you have to be a person who creates trust.
Think of it like a campfire. To be trustworthy is to have your kindling, wood, tinder, and matches all set up and ready to go. But in the immortal words of rock icon and park ranger Bruce Springsteen, you can’t start a fire without a spark.
As you’ll see, there are no shortcuts to gaining someone’s trust. It takes time to create an emotional bond and find the energy to bring it to life. If you don’t make a long-term commitment to keeping the fire going, it will quickly burn out.
The deeper I delved into my exploration of trust, the clearer its relationship to opportunity became. Think of the people you trust most in the world. (For me, they are my wife and mother—two people who consistently help, educate, challenge, and make me better in every way.)
How long did it take you to picture their faces? One second? Maybe two? And when was the last time you thought of these people? I’m going to guess that it hasn’t been longer than a week or two. Now make a mental list of the things you’d absolutely never ever do for these people if they were to ask you for help. Pretty short list, isn’t it?
When you trust someone completely, you place that person directly at the topmost point of your mind. And so long as you trust that person, he or she will stay there. You’ll do whatever you can for him or her, seeking out and creating opportunities to make his or her life better.
This can all be distilled into a simple formula, shown in Figure 2.1. In other words, if you can consistently generate and sustain trust, you can create your own opportunity.
Now I’m not saying you can be everyone’s wife or mother. (That’s just weird.) What you can do is hit enough trust touchpoints to earn a place at the top of people’s minds. That’ll make you the first person they think of when it’s time to make a decision. Think of it as a trust equity meter: each touchpoint helps you get another share of trust equity. Over time, you’ll become a larger holder of their trust.
When someone is looking to hire an attorney, work with a designer for a website, or develop partnerships for the next opportunity, the person who’s built trust, hit enough touchpoints, and earned top-of-mind status will get the first call.
It may sound intuitive (it is), and it may sound like alchemy (it’s not). Either way, this formula was the culmination of my studies in trust, and it hit me like a divine revelation. Since making it the central pillar of our business philosophy, Influence & Co. has grown substantially. We’ve had a revenue growth of 5,000 percent, earned a place on the Forbes “Most Promising Companies in America” list, received recognition by the United Nations with an Empact Award for Best Marketing and Advertising Company, and recently ranked on the Inc. 500. More important than accolades, though, is that we’re surrounded by constant opportunities for growth.
But it’s easy to talk about how wonderful and important trust is in business and in life. The real question is: How do you make it happen?
This is an excerpt from John Hall’s bestselling business book Top of Mind. Access the full chapter here to learn more about creating trust, and order your copy here.Image by Jonathan Klok / Unsplash
Get better at your job right now.
Read our weekly newsletter to master content marketing. It’s made for marketers, creators, and everyone in between.