Magical Words That Sell: How to Build Trust in Your Marketing

Nov 25, 2019

Do your marketing messages make you trustworthy? Are you using the right words and phrases?

To explore how words can build trust with customers, I interview Marcus Sheridan on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Marcus is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of They Ask, You Answer. He also runs a digital sales and marketing agency called Impact, and does workshops on digital sales and marketing for corporations.

Marcus shares words and phrases you can use to market your business and explains how most of us are doing it wrong.

The Language of the Listener

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

If there’s anything in the world that can bind us together or separate us, that can attract or push away, it’s our words. They’re the heartbeat of businesses. They’re certainly the heartbeat of the digital world. The copywriter skill set is arguably even more important today than it was many years ago.

Most businesses don’t speak in the language of their listeners. This is important because speaking in someone’s own language induces trust. Trust is everything in business. At its core, the reason people come to you and the reason they buy your product or hire your agency is that they trust you enough to give you their money. And the only way you’re going to get to that point is to have the right actions and the right words, the words that really matter.

Speaking someone’s language doesn’t mean speaking in Spanish or English. It means speaking to people in a way that connects with them, with the words and phrases they use. It’s the feelings they’re having in that moment that allow them to say, “This company gets me. This person gets me. He or she understands me.”

How often do we produce words that induce that set of feelings? That’s the ultimate litmus test, the emotional manifestation in a person receiving this piece of content: that video, that article, that call to action. If you’re speaking their language, it gives a sense of immediate commonality.

Marcus speaks all over the world and he’s fascinated by how often people come up to him at the end of a talk and comment on a word he used or a way he said something. Marcus is from Virginia; he has a bit of a Southern accent and uses the words “y’all” and “dang” quite a bit. People often comment, “As soon as I heard you say ‘y’all,’ I just felt like I was at home with you in the audience.” Marcus points out that somebody else might hear the same turns of phrase and think, “Well, he’s a dumb Southern boy.”

Either way, his words form an immediate impression in people’s minds about the person they see in front of them – just as our words form an impression of the person or business our audience sees in a video or behind a screen or page.

Doing It Wrong — and Doing It Right

Marcus lays out a couple of key truths we need to embrace to do this well.

Guiding Principles

If a company says, “Our obsession is trust,” they need to figure out how they can obsess over trust so much that whatever they do or say, they’re first thinking, “Is this going to lead the listener to trust us more or trust us less?”

When you have that simple denominator, when you just come out and say, “Okay, we’re going to allow trust to be our strategic or moral compass,” that makes figuring out the words to say so much easier. When you look at marketing today, how often are businesses having conversations in the boardroom about the way they’ve said something, the actual messaging? It’s very rare; you don’t hear about this very much at all.

Marcus does a lot of sales training. He says the number-one factor that dictates whether somebody opens up a sales email is the subject line. Salespeople often send hundreds of direct, one-to-one emails a month, with an average open rate of just 18%. And the most frequently used subject line for most salespeople when they’re following up with a prospect is simply, “Following up.” That is the most used, the most obvious, and the least emotion-inducing subject line possible.

Marcus, following up...

Marcus has polled approximately 20,000 salespeople. He’s asked over and over again, “How many of you have received training on how to write the perfect subject line, considering that some of you send thousands of emails per month?” He’s never had a single person raise their hand.

Similarly, if you ask most marketers if they’ve studied psychology, most haven’t – even though we are in the business of psychology. What makes somebody immediately feel trust, and that your company is different, versus immediately feeling that they don’t like you?

Everybody has watched a video online before. Before you even clicked the video, you saw a thumbnail, from which you decided that you either wanted to watch the video or you didn’t. What made you click? If you ask the majority of marketers that question, most don’t know. It’s not a conversation that they’re having nearly enough.

The main reason you’ve opted not to click on a video – the psychology, again, the trust component – is because you’ve said to yourself, “I don’t like that person.” There’s something about the way they look that turns you off. There’s something about the title that turns you off. Most often, it’s because the message you’re getting is, “This person who produced it thinks they’re smarter than me. They think they have something on me here.”

That is the number-one psychological reason people choose not to click on a video. If we understand the basics of this, we can change the way we talk.

Who Aren’t You a Fit for?

If you asked 100 companies how many openly say on their websites who they’re not a good fit for, Marcus estimates only one out of 100 will say yes. The moment you’re willing to specify prospects you’re not a good fit for is the moment you become dramatically more attractive to those you are a good fit for. Yet most businesses will never do this.

Marcus was on a family trip to Hawaii as we were recording this. He and his son planned to go fishing so Marcus was looking at charter boats. The majority of charter boat companies were saying why they’re awesome and how everybody loves them. But he found one that said it a little bit differently.

They said, “This fishing trip is for serious anglers who want to catch fish, not for first-timers. For all you serious fishermen who would love to try something a little different on your trip to Maui, this could be the fishing trip for you.”

Most charter captains or trips or businesses wouldn’t say that because they’re afraid to eliminate potential business from first-timers. This company is saying, “Okay, let’s just be straight out about who we are, and who we are not.” They say it in the first sentence: “We’re for the serious angler…we’re not for the first-timer,” and then end it with this great little word that means almost nothing to most people but it’s such a big deal. They end it with, “This could be the fishing trip for you.”

Everybody else says, “This is the only trip for you. We are the charter for you.” This company says, “This could be the fishing trip for you.” They’re not telling the customer that they’re smarter than them. They’re not telling them what to do. They’re allowing the buyer to decide by themselves. That’s empowering. That’s powerful. And not enough marketers think like that.

The Curse of Knowledge

The “curse of knowledge” is the act of communicating or thinking in a way that assumes everybody understands simply because we’re so used to saying it that way. We’ve been doing it so long and we’re so embedded in whatever it is that we just assume everybody else understands it, too.

Marcus recently spoke at a conference of high-end yacht manufacturers. He made each one of them write down on a sheet of paper who their product was not a good fit for. The majority of them literally couldn’t even think that way. They were dumbfounded by the idea that their product or service potentially wouldn’t be the best fit for somebody.

One thing some businesses tend to do when struggling with this angle is to become snarky or sarcastic: “Well, if you don’t love a great time on the water, this yacht might not be a good fit for you.” Marcus says that’s not the way to say it because that’s not what the consumer is thinking. If you’re a first-time yacht buyer, how are you really supposed to know whether this is the right yacht for you?

Let Them See Themselves

Marcus’s agency recently published a chart that shows the old agency model versus the new agency model. Traditionally, what agencies do is produce content for you. So his agency said, “If you’re looking for a company to produce your content for you” – in other words, if you don’t want to have a hand in it yourself – ”well, then we’re probably not the best fit for you.”

This makes people literally flinch. Then they lean into it, like, “What was that? They just said I might not be a good fit for them.”

You’ve got to follow it up with who you are a good fit for. In this case, Marcus’s agency would follow that up by saying, “…but if you’re looking to really own your digital in-house and you want to produce your own content as an organization, well then we might be a great fit for you.”

They then listed nine components of a traditional agency and nine components of a newer or more modern agency. Each time somebody reads that, they’re looking at it and saying either, “Yes, that’s me,” or “Nope, that’s not me.”

Is Impact the Right Fit for My Company

Everybody should ask themselves, “Who’s not going to have a good experience with a company like us?” You want to look for ways to show the other side of the coin, just to emphasize that you aren’t biased. Most viewers, visitors, and buyers expect the one that’s selling the thing to be biased. They’re literally looking for reasons to not trust this person or company. If you’re willing to come right out and talk about who you’re not a good fit for, it makes them think you’re unbiased.

To use the example of Social Media Marketing World, we know that our conference isn’t all things to all people. We could come out and say, “Here are all of the reasons Social Media Marketing World might be a great fit for you. But here are some reasons it might not be a great fit for you. To illustrate, if you’re into SEO and are looking for all of the latest and greatest on SEO practices, that’s not a major focus of this conference. Therefore, it might not be a good fit for you.”

When a social media marketer reads that, they immediately think, “Well, good. I wasn’t interested in learning that anyway.” They’re reaffirming in their mind that this is exactly what they’re looking for.


What are things we say as marketers in our messaging that immediately make us sound biased?

One of the best examples is that we force-feed how we feel about our product. The most common headline you see on a company’s homepage is why they’re special, why they’re so different, why they’re the best choice for you. But that’s not the way that people are necessarily thinking about it, or at least that’s not what they’re asking themselves in the moment.

We’ve gotten to this point because we look at each other’s websites, and we see the way that they say and show things. We think that’s the best way. That’s the norm. But remember, if it’s the norm, it means people will naturally skip over it and they won’t pay attention.

This is where Marcus advises going against the norms of website design and in the world of messaging in general. Instead of saying why your product or service is the best choice, instead turn it on its head and say, “Is our product really any different?” This question recognizes the doubt they feel.

What is They Ask, You Answer

Marcus is obsessed with that phrase, “They ask, you answer.” Businesses think it’s just about having somebody ask you a question and answering it on your website, but it can be more than that. It’s anything that they’re thinking, searching, saying, feeling, fearing – and the fearing part is what Marcus says is so powerful. We need to lean into the fearing part and be willing to address those fears in the language the customer uses.

In addition to his agency, Marcus also owns a swimming pool company. He addresses concerns such as, “Do fiberglass pools look cheap? Let’s look and see” – very openly. Somebody who has asked around and spoken with a concrete pool company has probably been told that fiberglass pools look cheap. In this case, they have this fear going into the conversation as they’re researching his website. So Marcus comes right out and says it, and addresses the fear as they’re thinking it.

Do Fiberglass Pools Look Cheap

One idea we discussed for Social Media Marketing World might be to ask, “Is this event really worth it? Let’s see what your peers say.” Marcus likes this approach because it’s not declaring that our event definitely is worth it. It’s different. We’re saying, “I understand your fears, Marcus. Let’s look and see together. Now you decide.” But the question is, how many companies really talk like that? Not many. Use the words you know your customer would use to ask questions, rather than making a declarative statement.

The Flinch

You’ve got to talk about who you’re not a good fit for. You’ve got to lean into showing that you’re unbiased, which means leaning into literally making the person flinch. So how much of your copy right now, how much of your messaging right now on your website, would make somebody do a double-take and lean in? We’ve all had that happen, where something has surprised us so much as we’re reading or watching it, and we open up and lean right in with our whole body.

One of the questions Marcus’s pool business gets all the time is why someone should choose fiberglass over concrete. Now here comes the flinch: Marcus frequently responds with, “Well, the truth is, you shouldn’t always choose fiberglass over concrete.” That’s flinch number one. Here comes flinch number two: “In fact, there are times when concrete is the better option.”

“What this article or what this video is going to do is explain honestly and transparently the pros and cons of both types of swimming pools. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll be able to decide which is the best choice for you.”

Should I Get a Fiberglass Pool

Realistically, how many brands, how many businesses, how many companies talk like that when you read about their products or services online? The flinch comes with, “What would they least expect to hear that moment, even though they already know it’s true?”

How many times on your website do you have something that would make someone nod their head, or tilt it to the side, or do that flinch, or blink and say, “Wow, I can’t believe they’re honest enough with me to have just said that”?

The “Nod And Click” Phenomenon

How many statements are there on your site, especially your homepage, that would lead someone to physically nod as they were reading it?

The headline on right now is, “Create a website you’re proud of.” knows most people are really frustrated with their websites, and their market is small businesses that don’t want to hire somebody to build out a $10,000–$20,000 website.

Create a Website You're Proud Of

They want to create the website for themselves but they don’t want something embarrassing or amateurish. So they immediately have this: “Create a website you’re proud of.” I can nod my head and think, “Yeah, that’s me. I want to do that; I want to create a website I’m proud of.”

The headline on Marcus’s pool company site is, “Considering an inground pool?” That’s it; that is the full headline. It says nothing about the company.

If you ask anybody, “When you go to a website, are you more concerned about your own problems and issues, or are you more concerned about the company you’re visiting?” Everybody’s going to answer, “I care about myself, my problems, my issues, my needs, my questions.”

Considering an Inground Pool

Yet if you look at the headlines of 90% of websites, it’s a brag. It’s not about the customer; it is about the company. In this context, the test for this is, “Can the person nod?” Even if they can shake their head and say, “No, that’s not me,” it’s still a win. Either way, they realized it was about them in this context.

Somebody could say, “No, I’m not looking for an inground pool; I’m looking for an above-ground pool. I’m out of here.” Has Marcus lost anything? No, because they’re not his market. And that’s effective communication.

We vs. You

Here’s another test that you can do with your site right now. Count the ratio of “we” versus “you” on the website. You or yours. We or our.

If you look at most homepages, you’ll see that it’s 80% “we.” So if you have 10 statements using “we” versus “you,” 8 are going to be “we”-based, and 2 are going to be “you”-based. It needs to be the other way around.

On your homepage and throughout your site, especially in headlines, 80% of the language should be based on “you” or “your.” You can switch it even further and make it first-person. That way, it’s personalized for that individual. Once again, going back to this nodding component, they can have a physical manifestation of the experience that they’re having, like, “Yep, that’s me. I’m going to continue to stay here, I’m going to continue to read.”

Eliminate the Learning Curve of Content Production & See Immediate Results

State the Obvious

When somebody fills out a form online and they’re asked to give their information, there’s a specific set of fears that they have. We know this because we all have the same basic fears of filling out a form online:

  • What are you going to do with my private information?

  • Are you going to spam me to death?

  • Are you going to email me to death?

  • If I fill out this form, exactly what’s going to happen?

We know that every business uses this form, yet how many address those fears right there on the landing page? Almost none.

Marcus suggests placing a simple video next to the form that addresses those fears. But there are two parts to getting it right. First, it has to have a very clear title. Second, it also needs to have that flinch component.

Marcus says that the best title for that video is, “See exactly what will happen if you fill out this form.” Why that title? Because that’s exactly what viewers are thinking to themselves in that moment. Now you’re showing them exactly what will happen if they fill out this form—you’re not saying if it’s good or bad.

In the video, you want to come right out and bonk them over the head again with the fears they’re having. They ask, you answer. All you have to say is something like, “You’re sitting there right now saying to yourself, should I fill out this form? Are these guys going to spam me to death? Is somebody going to call me 10 times the next day? Relax, relax, relax. Let’s talk about exactly what’s going to happen if you fill out this form.” Then you just explain it in words.

Marcus says he’s tested this many times and has found an 80% lift on average.

What’s the norm? The norm is putting the form up and hoping they fill it out. What makes you stand out? Saying exactly what will happen if they fill out the form.

Discovery of the Week

DuetCam is an iOS app that lets you record both the front-facing and back-facing cameras at the same time stitched together on your iPhone.

iPhone Screenshots

It creates a picture-in-picture scene, basically like FaceTime or Skype, with a big window and a small window. One application for this might be to show your face in the big frame or in the small picture-in-picture window when you’re creating Instagram stories. Another might be at a big event like Social Media Marketing World. If you’re in the audience and you’re filming, you can share your own reactions while also sharing what’s happening in front of you.

You can’t resize the large and small images, although you can determine which lens is the primary versus the secondary, and you can always swap them. There’s another button that allows you to change in which corner the smaller window appears. DuetCam works in both horizontal and vertical orientations, but you should decide which one you’re going to use before you begin.

DuetCam is $2.99 and available exclusively for iOS at

Key Takeaways From This Episode:

By Michael Stelzner