Building Trust: Meeting Your Leads Where They Are | Review

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘trust’ is defined as the ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.’

In the animal kingdom, trust forms a major part of the foundation of relationships. All animals, humans included, use non-conscious and sub-conscious clues to determine whether or not we will trust another living being. As a matter of survival, who or what we trust, can be a matter of life, death or these days, our mental health.


We also use trust to varying degrees and purposes. A stray dog might trust us enough to eat food from our hands, but not enough to pick up in our arms. An employee might trust their boss enough to recognise their hard work, and reward them with a good appraisal, but not enough to enjoy drinks on a Friday after work.

Building trust is an integral part of our automatic sub-conscious behaviour.

The frameworks we create for others allow us to quickly determine whether they are friends or foes. The human brain is always looking for the easy way out and the fastest way to put itself at ease. Automatically operating on sub-conscious activity, when the brain doesn’t know if it should be trusting or not, the conscious brain takes over and gets to work. Thereby increasing the cognitive load.

We are always seeking to resolve trust issues with living matter that are capable of establishing their own defense mechanism so that our brains can go back to auto-pilot.

But what does this have to do with to the digital playground?

Do we believe that the internet is alive?


Is the Internet alive?

An intricate network of code and calculations that have the ability to spit out exactly what we are looking for.

Despite its responsive and interactive nature, surely the internet is not ‘alive’ in the same manner one would compare an animal, human or any living organism. But yet still, we interact with websites and brands as though they are alive. Subconsciously deciding whether or not sites are safe for us to proceed or exit.

The most effective websites have a well-thought-out UX design, putting the customer at ease from landing to checkout.

But for other websites, it’s a case where the cognitive load is too high, forcing us to make a hasty retreat. In some cases, we may be interested in purchasing a product but end up abandoning our carts. Even in the simplest forms, our ideal customer passes up a good deal of receiving a 20% discount on their first order, in exchange for a meagre request of their email address. Why?

The trust factor can be the biggest deciding factor between a lead converting on your page or running off in search of another brand who can give them what they are looking for. Just like any relationship, it must be earned, built and never assumed. But some brands are getting this wrong.

How brands incorrectly assume trust.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, in his book ‘Influence’, identifies 7 principles of persuasion. Each of these principles are nothing more than key relationship builders, aimed at building a connection with others to effect action. These principles are almost always guaranteed to work between parties who communicate the same way, regardless of the actual language used. So you won’t be able to look at your pet goldfish and say ‘Hey! I love goldfishes!’ and expect Goldy to respond ‘I love you right back!’. But you can go to a website for goldfish enthusiasts written in German, and understand that they love goldfishes too.


These principles get your foot in the door with your leads, often acting as the nudge. With the right motivation, you can direct your leads towards their perfect solution. But when trust becomes an issue, the friction that is created results in a failed process.

To understand why this happens, we have to understand where it first begins.

Brands are very sure of themselves . They are built by brilliant marketing and advertising teams, bringing exciting solutions to the market. They know it, their customers know it, and so should you. Except that, new leads who have never had any interaction with them before, don’t have a clue about them. And then it becomes a case of too much, too soon.

Think about this.

You meet someone and think that they look like a good candidate for a first date. But when you go to introduce yourself, they ask you for your annual salary, your horoscope sign and how many children you plan on having.

Too much, too soon?

You betcha.

Now compare that to a visitor landing on a website for the first time. Before they can assess the offerings, a pop-up appears, completely blocking their path, and asking to sign up for something they don’t even know they’re interested in.

Seem familiar?

Brands often misjudge the place where they really occupy in the mind of the visitor. Websites behave as though the lead has known them for years and wants what they have. In reality, the visitor hasn’t yet determined whether or not they even want a relationship, let alone to continue looking.

So asking for anything personal at this point is a bit creepy. And quite frankly, a turnoff.

Credit: Nielsen Norman Group

The Pyramid of Trust

This was my blow-mind moment of the week while studying digital psychology and persuasion at CXL.

The Pyramid Of Trust, developed by the Neilson Norman Group, suggests that there is an existing hierarchy of trust which brands and website developers must be aware of, to understand when to ask for what.

For new leads, no trust has been established. And when brands attempt to entice behaviour for exchanges of personal information, they are jumping ahead at least 3 levels beyond the existing comfort level of the lead.

Ideally, when a brand attempts to collect email addresses, it’s not only to send promotional messages but to build and develop a relationship. But what often happens, is communication which may not be deemed as relevant, starts piling up in the lead’s inbox.

To avoid this, leads guard their emails closely and ignore these requests. If they can’t continue to explore the site unobstructed, they’ll soon forget that as well.

So how can brands collect information to start building relationships?

Simple Solution

I’ll stick with the example of pop-ups as they are so frequently used, and in many cases, extremely invasive.

Brands can avoid triggering these when a new visitor lands on the website. Instead, use time-delayed or scroll-activated triggers. These would be activated after the lead already started getting a feel for the brand deliverables.

When successful, brands can now use emails to continue nurturing the relationship, with the eventual goal of conversion.

Another option would be to trigger the pop-up just as a visitor tries to exit.

If the lead wasn’t sold the first time around, this tactic offers to recapture the interest of the prospect and bring them back to the site at some point again.

The hierarchy of trust provides a framework for meeting the prospect on their own terms. Once on the same level, connections are formed, leads convert, and the stage is set for a new type of behavior. Loyalty.

This series is part of a 12-week review of the mini-degree program in Digital Psychology and Persuasion by CXL. Every week, I’ll be sharing a brief review of some of the topics covered which have had the most impact on me.



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Daniella Wade

Copywriter & Email Marketer | Specialist in Sales, Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Travel