Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Age of Suspicion

Five years ago, marketing gurus cautioned us: customers’ worldviews had changed.

They no longer trusted institutions of any kind, whether business, government, nonprofit or media.

Arguably, the distrust was deserved.  Rascals and reprobates ruled the day’s headlines.  Kenneth Lay.  Bernie Ebbers.  Jack Abramoff.  Jayson Blair.  I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

But that wasn’t the whole story.

The gurus held out another warning at the time.  Trust—the bedrock of purchasing—had not merely ebbed.  It was in near-mortal danger.

As things turned out, the gurus were right.  The years of distrust have ended.

We've entered the Age of Suspicion.

Customers today aren’t just distrustful.  They’re downright suspicious.

They no longer give you a pass to treat them as lemming-like receptacles for marketing messages.  Instead, they discredit your messages before they’ve even taken them in.

Everyday objectivity has given way to habitual disbelief.  It’s as if your attempts to communicate were toxic or, worse, “candy from strangers.”

Old-fashioned curiosity, open-mindedness and the benefit of the doubt have vanished.  Ordinary trust is a dinosaur.

Social scientists teach that trust is a bond based on one party’s willingness to become vulnerable to another.

Sadly, that bond has been broken once too often in recent years.

As a result customers no longer feel safe enough to consider unfamiliar risks, even trivial ones.

And their refusal to lower their defenses makes customers virtually immune to most forms of persuasion.

PS: For insight, read Charles Green's article, "2010: The Summer of Trust."
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