We live in the age of distrust. Our bullsh*t detectors work at full speed and anything fishy gets caught. Any claim you make without showing proof is destined to fail. We’re all skeptics.

Even if you mean well, people find it hard to believe you. Here are a few principles and a 3-step sequence you can use to make your writing more believable.

Principle #1: Don’t use superlatives, be specific

I was delivering a conversion optimization workshop the other day, and one person asked about how to talk yourself up on the website. “Should I say I’m the best?” The answer is no. There’s nothing that makes people more skeptical than hype.

Compare these statements, and pick the claim you believe more:

  • Fastest pizza delivery in town” vs “We deliver your pizza in 10 minutes“.
  • We have the best italian restaurant” vs “Our restaurant has won 6 Golden Spoon awards in the Italian Food category
  • Cheapest web hosting plans” vs “Our monthly plans start from $1.99“.
  • Best tasting coffee, guaranteed” vs “Major competitions have voted Esmeralda the consistent winner five years in a row

I bet you found the second option more believable in each case. People don’t believe superlatives, they believe specifics. I understand the urge to want to use superlatives, but always translate them into specifics.

People are not idiots. They won’t believe you’re the best just because you say so.

Principle #2: Back up any claim with proof

Your restaurant makes the best omelet in town? Says who?

When you praise yourself, it’s not very believable. When a neutral third-party says something good about you, you can use that as a reference and instantly make your claim much more believable.

This is why you need to use

  • customer testimonials (full name + photo or video),
  • neutral expert opinions,
  • third-party reviews,
  • verified (scientific) studies

to back up any claim you make.

Papalote uses tweets and testimonials to praise their food. This makes it much more believable:

Principle #3: Use simple language

Read this:

In the present report the results of a series of experiments are described in which wine and beer drinkers were tested to measure their peripheral competency.

Did you get that? Me neither.

If you want people to believe you, they need to understand you first. Forget jargon and corporate speak. People have a natural tendency to believe people like them. If you speak to them like they speak, you have a far greater chance of success.

MailChimp gets it:

Complicated language confuses and frustrates people, and neither one helps your sales. The text on your website is there for people to read and understand – with ease.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing B2C or B2B marketing, there’s always an actual human being reading your stuff, so the text has to connect with that person.

If you use overly complicated language – it just shows you’re out of touch and don’t really understand yourself what you’re doing.

Note: don’t confuse this with using technical language. When a gene technology company talks to professionals in its field, there’s no need to dumb it down. Know your target customer. 

Do this: Go over the texts on your website and read them out loud. Imagine it’s a conversation with a friend. If there’s a sentence you wouldn’t say to a friend, re-word it.

Further reading: Quick course On Effective Website Copywriting (my guest post on Smashing Magazine).

Principle #4: Make it about them

It’s about your customers. They want to make sure you’re on their side and care about their problems.

If the CEO of Goldman Sachs would say: ‘invest all your money with us, you’ll get rich’ – how many people would believe he has their best interests in mind? Not too many.

People believe you when they can be sure you’re putting them first. 

In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Obama campaign focused on “we” (Yes we can), Clinton focused on “I” (The Strength and Experience to Make Change Happen). Accoring to this book, one analysis found that Obama used the word “we” 6x more than “I”. In Clinton’s case, it was the opposite. We know how that played out.

After a public scandal about people overdosing on Tylenol, they had a responsible dosing campaign. It said something like  ‘if you don’t use our product responsibly, better don’t use it at all’. Lots of people thought the campaign is going to flop – but it didn’t. People felt that Tylenol put people before profits, and they ate it right up. Crisis averted.

What’s in it for me?

Every visitor on your site cares the most about themselves (and their family). They don’t really care much about you.

Hence, avoid language that’s about you and make it solely about them and how they can benefit.

The process

Use this 3-step sequence to get people to believe what you write.

1. Engage first

When was the last time somebody changed your point of view about something? People rarely do, especially when someone is trying to make them change it.

People believe messages that already represent their world view, that validate their beliefs.

Politics is the best example. When you hear a party you dislike make a statement, you’re almost certain to disbelieve them. And vice versa.

Morgan Stanley screwed up the Facebook IPO – and many people went “I knew the banks were rotten to the core!”. They were interpreting the news in a way that validated their beliefs about the huge financial corporations.

Since you can’t target everyone anyway, it’s definitely a good idea to target people by their beliefs, by their world view. If you are like your customers, they’re much more likely to do business with you. If you don’t know what their world view is, you better start talking to them to find out.

If your target group has various belief systems, the best way to get through to them is to start with engagement.

Get them to agree with you first, find common ground before proceeding.

Let’s say you want to reform the tax code. People have very different ideas about how it should work. But pretty much everybody can still agree that the tax system should be fair and support economic growth. Once we have established that, we can continue to a constructive discussion.

So engage first.

LessAccounting draws you in with a statement a lot of people resonate with: All small business accounting software sucks, but they quickly do themselves a disservice by claiming “we suck the least”. People don’t believe superlatives (see above).

2.  Get them to agree with the problem

It’s difficult to agree on the best way forward if we haven’t agreed on the problem first.  Once you have engaged the prospect and drawn them in, the next step is to validate the problem.

As neuromarketing research has shown, you have a much better chance of closing the sale when you get people to acknowledge the pain (the greater the pain, the higher the chance of sale).

It’s important to know the language your customers use when describing the pain. Conduct user surveys and pay attention to the exact wording they use. Remember, you need to join the conversation in your customers’ mind.

3. Avoid hard sell, help them find the right solution

The days when aggressive closing techniques and hard sell prevailed, are pretty much over. Nobody likes to be put under sales pressure – it makes people want to run away,  and it boosts their skepticism. The best way to close the sale is to provide neutral, objective information and let the customer decide for themselves.

The old school method is to say ‘we are the best’. The new school is to ask ‘what are your needs?’, to listen, then point out your strenghts and mention all the other suppliers out there along with their advantages. This is the way to win customers’ trust.

People want somebody they can trust, not somebody who says ‘trust me’.

While your competitors claim they’re the best, the fastest, the cheapest, you can stand out by helping customers make the best choice for them (even if it’s using somebody else’s products).

Never claim that your solution is the ideal fit for everyone. It’s not and you know it. Instead, listen to them and suggest a solution that is best for their situation.

Red Cappi claims to be the best email marketing tool to boost my business. Finally! I was looking for the one that’s best for me – I’ll sign right up! Or on second thought… not gonna happen.

Be honest about your weaknesses

One of the best things you can do to build trust is to be honest about your shortcomings. No product in the world is the best for everybody, and the customers know it. Be straightforward about your weaknesses and mention which competitors can offer the value that you can’t.

I’m sure you know the famous Listerine ads from the 1970′s that said “the taste you hate, twice a day“. When the competing product Scope was touting it’s great taste, Listerine people responded by admitting the terrible taste – and making a point that it’s a necessary trade-off to achieve the superb effectiveness.

Or maybe you’ve seen this ad:

Volkswagen people knew well that the bug was ugly, and they were upfront about it. They mentioned it – making it thereby a non-issue – and focused on it’s mechanical qualities and durability.

People know that ideal, perfect products do not exist. They’ve never bought one. So stop saying your’s is.

Research confirms that balanced arguments are more persuasive.

Bottom line: If you’re honest about your weaknesses, you’re more human and more trustworthy.

Be honest, always

The best way to come across honest and authentic is – by being honest and authentic. Always and over a long period of time. If you always stick to your word, people will believe you.

A great way to build a business is by building an audience who is looking forward to your messages (permission marketing at it’s best). The foundation of this is always being honest.

People yearn for authenticity and honesty, and will reward you for that. We hear about corrupt politicians and business executives all the time. There’s an inherent distrust against businesses.

The world is flooded with scammy internet marketers that send you fake urgency emails and what not. Don’t be that guy.

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