How trust is going to impact your marketing strategy (and what to do about it)

trust economy, ricardo ghekiere, marketing strategy, side project marketing

Suddenly, your friend tells you to turn right.

A quick glance at your phone is showing you have to go left.

What would you do?

Would you trust your friend over a computer?

Or will it depend on how much reviews he has in ‘roadmapping’?

Key things you will learn from reading this:

  1. Why the trust economy is going to change the way we do Marketing.
  2. How the trust Economy will impact your Marketing efforts.
  3. What you can do today to prepare your company and start building trust faster than your competitors.

The rise of the trust economy.

We have all been there.

A person stops you in the street, trying to sell you a membership to help kids or animals in need.

Sometimes you are even having one of those days where you can’t help yourself but listen to their story, but at the end, most of us don’t buy anything.

The reason is simple, they might have had our attention, but they haven’t earned our trust to sell us anything.

The exact same phenomenon is happening in today’s online world, an area where people have shorter attention spans than a gold fish.

You might be able to trick your customers into clicking on your add, getting their undivided attention, but have you earned their trust yet?

With more companies and people fighting for our attention, we turn to the things we already know.

The things we trust and believe in.

Getting attention doesn’t lead to anything sustainable.

Only trust does.

The codification of reputation

Trust was once an expensive pursuit. Hotels were built from luxurious materials to provide the most powerful declarations of solidity and trustworthiness — and to project a sense of enduring history. It was their way of showing (potential) customers that they can be trusted.

That has all changed now.

Nowadays we decide our hotels based on global trust such as reviews and average scores.

We are even prepared to place our lives in the hands of people we know barely anything about. All we need to know (and care about) are the number of reviews and their star rating. We’ve taken our most visceral fear of the unknown and cast it aside with just a numerical value.

As Jeffry A. Simpson writes:

“Trust involves the juxtaposition of people’s loftiest hopes and aspirations with their deepest worries and fears.”

This description makes it clear why so many people have trouble trusting: for them, the benefits of closeness and intimacy are overshadowed by the possibility of pain and betrayal.

Giving people or experiences a numerical value is a way to reduce this possible fear.

The rise of Collaborative Consumption

Reputation is now carried by a new system, which takes rather elusive notions of credibility, influence and status and turns them into measurable scores.

What is actually happening here is that people are realizing the power of technology to unlock the idling capacity and value of all kinds of assets, in ways and on a scale never possible before.

It is an economy and culture called collaborative consumption.

But the real magic and secret sauce behind collaborative consumption is not the inventory or the money. It is using the power of tech to build trust between strangers and even companies.

The irony is that these ideas are actually taking us back to old market principles and collaborative behaviors that are hard-wired in all of us.

We are hard-wired to buy from people we like, know and trust.

They’re just being reinvented in ways that are relevant for the Facebook age.

But, the question remains, would you trust a computer over a human decision.

In order to answer this question, we need to have a look at human behavior.

Death as an opt-in

Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car.

One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head towards a crowd of 8 people crossing the road.

It cannot stop in time, but it can avoid killing 8 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the driver and occupant.

What should the car do?

This was one of the questions Bonnefon and co needed to answer in order to find a way through this ethical dilemma by gauging public opinion.

The results are interesting, if not, very predictable.

In general, people are comfortable with the idea that self-driving vehicles should be programmed to minimize the death toll, which means the last option in this example, they’ll die.

This utilitarian approach is certainly laudable but the participants were willing to go only so far.

Participants were not as confident that autonomous vehicles would be programmed that way in reality — and for a good reason: they actually wished others to cruise in autonomous vehicles, rather than they wanted to buy vehicles themselves.

And therein lies the paradox.

People are in favor of cars that sacrifice the occupant to save other lives — as long they don’t have to drive one themselves.

In other words, people feel the right thing to do is to save all those people, as long as they are not in that car.

But, these are the same people that are going to decide whether you are going to run against a wall or not.

Or is death going to be an opt-in when buying your car in the future?

As the grandma (true story) of Bart de P. said:

“You always have to fear technology because you don’t know which technology is going to invent that technology.”

Social proof & tricking the system

As humans we view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

The more people doing it, the more this rule works into making us believe that the behavior is correct.

In other words, we use behavior of people (to whom we feel similar), to determine proper behavior for ourselves.

Just like canned laughter in your favorite tv shows causes viewers to laugh longer and more often.

Social proof is what makes reviews and ratings so powerful. It helps our brain to take shortcuts into making decisions.

Yet, the system still has some flaws when fake reviews and star ratings come into play.

Of course, as a data driven person, I have put the power of social proof to an experiment.

We started out with creating a profile on, a platform that enables people to receive and give advice in exchange for cash per minute.

We decided to use this platform for our test, since we’ve noticed that it looked pretty easy to rank ourselves above other experts on our core business, Growth Hacking.

The experiment: To start the experiment and not waste time time of our own, we spend 5,31€ on Fiverr* to have a person create accounts and leave real reviews on our profile (this is the part where we are probably going to get banned).

* Fiverr is the world’s largest freelance services marketplace for lean entrepreneurs.

The result: In less then one day we ranked top 1 as an expert in Growth Hacking. About 2 months after setting up the experiment, we received our first customer on the 22nd of December 2017, who was more than happy with the advice that was given.

As shown in the autonomous car example, we tend to be egocentric in decisions that have an impact on our own lives. But the system that is build to create trust, is not bulletproof enough to create and build that real trust.

The question is not: Who is going to control the human race? But who is it going to trust in the digital age and how can we earn it?

The trust economy: things to consider while re-thinking the way you do Marketing.

Decentralized trust economy

“Decentralized technology, such as Blockchain, is not an attack on the banks or even on the government, it’s an attack on the trust economy.” Bart Vandepaer

This is the one of the simple explanations why companies that offer review software such as Yotpo (raised 53$) and Trustpilot (raised 123$) have reached a point where their evaluation has skyrocketed.

Clearly, there is something here.

It’s not about what you think or say about your brand anymore. It’s about how many people have reviewed your product or service. The more, the better.

What is great about these platforms is that they enable people to see reviews from real people who have actually bought the product. Which makes it a lot harder to trick the system and helps building the trust we want in order to help our brain decide faster.


To get back to our example of the self-driving car: What happens if the creator is in the driver’s seat? What if he/she gets to decide which reviews are shown to the general public, with just one click on a button.


How honest and trustworthy are reviews in a centralized system where we are still in charge of what people get to see about us by just unpublishing your bad review.

This is exactly what is happening in China with their Citizen rating. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?

Take George Orwell’s 1984. Now sprinkle in that episode of “Black Mirror” (Nosedive) where characters live in a world in which every aspect of their lives is dominated by ratings.

In conclusion, the only way to build real trust between brands and people is to have a decentralized identity controlling what we see and how we see it, without mediation of the creator deciding which and how many reviews will be shown.

Review syndication & the battle of reviews within a trust economy

As much as we all think that Amazon is the leading player in ecommerce, it’s not the only player around selling products or services online.

With 8.4% of all U.S. retail shopping now done on the web, reviews will only become more important, raising the urgency for companies to offer insightful and crowd-sourced insight.

Even better is that the more reviews a product has, the more likely they are to sell, even if the are reviews are negative.

“There are companies today that are gathering their online reviews and spreading them across multiple platforms where their brand is being sold. And it’s power is only increasing“ Miel van Opstal

The importance of reviews are going to rise because they help us decide faster on things we don’t want to be thinking about at all. Or support a decision we have already made.

How to start building trust in a trust economy

How would you feel if somebody you didn’t know, walked up to you in the middle of the street trying to sell you an expensive pen?

Chances are, you might not even lift a finger, let alone, your wallet.

The reason behind this is simple.

People purchase from you based on your KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST factor.

A stranger nevertheless, has none of these factors.

So how can we make people know, like and trust us?

You provide them with value first.

It’s that simple.

Yet, this is the part where most companies get it wrong.

You need marketing that isn’t perceived as marketing.

Understand this story before building trust.

We all know what favors are, but what most of us don’t know is this unwritten rule.

It’s a social rule that implies that people give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they have received from another.

Psychologists call this Reciprocity.

This is one of the fundamental psychological principles which directs human behavior.

In other words, if you help people first, they will be more likely to help you out.

Now think about the last time a good friend, who helped you out, asked you for a favor.

Did you say yes?

A great example of reciprocity happened in 1985.

The early morning of 19 September 1985, Mexico City was being struck by an earthquake with a moment magnitude of 8.0.


At least 5000 people died that day.

Luckily, my mother was not home and ended up looking at a destroyed house sparing her life.

But what happened next, was something nobody would have predicted.

The day after the earthquake, a relief donation of 5.000$ was sent by a country that was low on food supply and where an internal war was still ongoing.


The question remains, why would a country that was suffering this much send a relief donation?

To answer this question, we need to rewind our clock back to 1935.

In 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia when it was being invaded by Italy during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

So the reason why Ethiopia helped out, was because of the help they received 50 years ago.

This is exactly the reason why giving something of true value will get you to sell something related/similar later on.

Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and trust with your customers.

Solve people’s small problems, and they will come to you with their big problems.

As you were able to read trust is the key of succeeding or failing. The next question is: how can you build that trust?

How to build trust and value faster then your competitor.

While most marketers — nearly 53 percent — say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority to provide value and build trust to its prospects and customers, the tactic is becoming less effective between the 2,527,635 blogs written every day (and those are stats from 2010, imagine what number it would be today).

While the compounding results, meaning organic search increases their traffic over time, are still very effective. They tend to be long-term strategies, especially if you want to do it right.

What if you need quick traction right now, what if you want to build report and trust quicker then your competitor. What do you do?

You build a Side Project.

You create something of true value in order to solve a very small problem of your target audience in order to gain their trust and sell them your service or product later-on.

A great and well-known example is done by Hubspot. Their main objective and core service is selling you marketing automation software for inbound marketers. But before buying expensive software, they first need to know if their website is running at full speed; therefore, HubSpot created a free tool, called Website Grader. In exchange of getting you a free overview of what to improve on your website, they go home with loads of valuable data about their target audience.

In other words, Side Projects should help solve a small problem of your target audience for free to help grow your core business.

There are 2 questions to keep in mind before making your Side Project:

  1. What is your core product or business?
  2. What is a small problem my target audience is having and how can I solve it in the best possible way.

Trust economy: 4 type of Side-Projects you can make in order to build trust with your users.

1. Directories

Yes, you can buy happiness — especially if the money saves you time.

People who dole out cash to save time on things like housekeeping, delivery services and taxis are a little bit happier than those who don’t.

Well, that’s exactly what these directories are, a nice-looking curated website to help people save time. A great example of this is one of the most upvoted product on Product Hunt, called Startup Stash, a curated directory of 400 tools and resources for startup founders.


As people like to say: ‘you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, if it’s already invented’. One directory, called Marketing Stack, looks quite similar to the product above, with just a small twist. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get started with your Side Project.


2. Quizzes

Everybody loves quizzes, except cats, they don’t really do quizzes.

That wasn’t actually a real quote, but you might get the point.

And there is proof to support this statement (except the cats part).

A great example is this little but highly successful quiz called “You’ve Been Framed”, which helps the (potential) customers of the the eye glass company pick the right framework for them. The result? The quiz generated $1 million for the company. Not bad for ‘just’ a quiz.


3. Generators

“Solve people’s small problems, and they will come to you with their big problems.”

That’s exactly what te people at Board of Innovation understood very well when they designed the

By helping people generate ideas on their own, they are solving a small problem of a much larger puzzle, which is digital innovation.

And here is exactly when the reciprocity effect kicks in.

By helping somebody out in an early stage, they are much more likely to work with you in the future. Returning you the favor.

Because now, you gave them a small reason to trust you over your competitor in this trust economy.

4. Graders

A grader is much harder to make, but it can deliver wildly amazing results.

Just like in school, it’s a report, personalized to your needs on what to do next and where there is room for improvement. A great example is the Company Culture Test developed by Intuo that allows users to test how strong their company culture is. A tool to create awareness around the importance of company culture.


5 Pro-tips in order to build your Side Project

1. Why Side Projects should be free.

“Free” is this magical price that everybody seems to love and it’s changing the way we do business right now.

In the 19th Century, a man by the name King Gillette invented the world’s first disposable-blade razor.

His strategy was simple.

He sold the razors, only the handle part, cheaply to places like banks who would give them away to new customers as part of their promotions, totally free.

As most men know, the handle isn’t the expensive part, the blades are, and they sell them with a hefty profit, later in the sales cycle.

Yet, customers were more than happy to accept this free gift.

To truly understand why “free” is such a powerful marketing method, we need to understand the psychology behind it.

Behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, tells us that most transactions have an upside and a downside.

But when things are free, we forget the downside.

Why? Because as humans, we are intrinsically afraid of loss.

With “free”, there’s no visible possibility of loss.

So we speed right by all those questions we would otherwise have about the value of an item and land directly on “yes please”.

Side Project Marketing is about giving value to your customers that would otherwise cost them money.

2. Focus on solving one (small) problem only and solve it fast.

If you have ever seen an episode of Kitchen Nightmares by Gordon Ramsey, you’ll understand that every single episode has the same problem.

Too many dishes on the menu turns out to be the bottleneck of every restaurant.

Of course, we can all understand the logic behind having more dishes on the menu.

It attracts more potential customers.

Nevertheless, we all know that feeling when we are looking at a menu with at least 100 possible dishes to choose from.

Not only is it hard to choose, but you might also question the quality of each dish.

Why is this happening?

When you ask most people what’s standing in their way to becoming a success, it’s usually some sort of variation of “I need more time, money and people”.

The thing is, when you ask these people what they would do with that extra time, money and people, they’ll probably show you a plan that does more of what they are already doing.

And that’s exactly a recipe for failure.

Focus on solving one small problem your customers are having right now and place a deadline for yourself.

If you can’t build it in less then 2 weeks, it’s not a side Project, it’s a second business.

Here is a guide on how to create one in 3 days.

3. Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Most people think that Edison invented the first light bulb.

They’re wrong.

In fact, Edison was tremendously late at the party.

It was not until 23 others had invented early versions called, arc lamps, that the 36 — year-old inventor started his journey to build a light bulb.

The question remains, how did he manage to still win in a field that was crowded with players?

In one word: experimentation.

For Edison, building the first commercial light bulb was synonymous with building an invention factory.

For the simple reason that the more experiments they ran, the more knowledge they had about what worked and what didn’t work for them, giving them the competitive advantage they needed to succeed.

Just like the creation of luck, the more you experiment, the more chances you’ll have to break free from your competitions.

You first Side Project won’t be a bullseye, don’t give up (trust us, we know).

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel and let the data speak

Unless you have really reinvented the wheel like these guys on Shark Tank, don’t (if you haven’t seen the episode, it’s a must right here).

As said before, a Side Project should be build in less then 2 weeks of time, if not, it’s just another business.

The thing is, when you are deciding what to build for your customers, what they say they want and what they actually want, can most of the times be the complete opposite.

As said in one of  my last guides;

“Sustainable growth comes from understanding best customers and figuring out how to find and acquire more of them.”

By having a look at your current data you are able to discover huge amount of opportunities to leverage your growth.

In other words, a Side Project doesn’t need to be something brand new.

In fact, the best way how to build & test yours is to repurpose the content which is already working and doubling down on it.

Let the data speak, since there are no ‘great’ ideas until proven with hard data.

5. Distribution is key

Imagine you are sitting in your favorite bar with your buddies.

Your best friend just started talking about his great journey throughout Belgium (if he is lucky with the weather).

He starts of with talking about all these great beers he was able to taste with a guided tour in Brugge.

But there was one in particular that struck his attention and tasting budds:

“Brugse Zot” (don’t even try to pronounce that).

While explaining about his experience about this beer, you naturally feel like having one.

But you can’t.

Because they don’t serve this beer at your favorite bar.

And that’s exactly why these big corporate ventures such as AB Inbev were able to grow this big, they understood the power of distribution.

Just like your friends favorite beer, your Side Project is not finished when it’s ‘finished’.

Your efforts should equally be focused on distributing your Side Project as much as creating it.

Now go out and create the needed trust within this trust economy.

ricardo ghekiere

Author ricardo ghekiere

A self taught marketeer with a limitless amount of humor.

More posts by ricardo ghekiere

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