How to be untrustworthy

Over the past seven years, I’ve built a few platforms that get a decent amount of traffic. For the past three years, I’ve been trying to convert some of that traffic into revenue through digital products and courses, so I can focus more time on my writing. Although I have had some success, I’m also sure things aren’t going as well as they could be going. Recently I had my sites audited (got feedback from experts and users) to find out how to improve.

The issue that came up repeatedly, is that my visible and obvious lack of confidence made me appear untrustworthy.

This is more complex than it sounds, so I’m going to examine two industries that are on my mind today before taking a look at how it relates to my own platforms. Then I’m going to talk about how to fix it. If you’re making the same mistakes, this article should help you sell with more confidence.

 

Kombucha – pricing and packaging

I like carbonated drinks. My can of choice was Coke Zero, before I found out that Diet Coke has more caffeine. However, I know that drinking diet sodas isn’t exactly healthy, so it’s a guilty pleasure, a vice.

Kombucha is fermented tea with healthy probiotics, so I can enjoy the taste without the guilt (even if that trust is misplaced).

There are lots of different brands, but the price points are usually around $3.50 (which means I could buy a 12-pack of Coke for the same price as one measly bottle). But that’s OK, it’s one of my few extravagant purchases. I know it’s basically overpriced tea, but I’m OK with the expense, partly because I feel like I’m making a healthy choice, and partly because I’m being into the brand and what it says about me, as someone who prefers Kombucha to Coke. It’s a lifestyle choice.

In Austin last month, I saw the bottle on the far right. It’s USP (unique selling proposition) is that it’s made with honey. I don’t know if this is actually a big deal, I’ll bet a lot of the others use honey as well. But it calls itself a “Tonic” – tying into the perceived benefit I drink it for (health). And it costs almost double.

That’s right, this new Kombucha upstart is daring to charge $6 or $7 for a bottle. I bought it for the novelty factor the first time (how can they be charging this much?) but just bought it again in Portland. The question is, why?

It didn’t taste that much different from the others. I can’t say for certain that I enjoy the taste more or that it’s any healthier. It’s claim to being “organic” is bold and central, but it’s no less so than the others.

The dark blue of the bottle may be subconsciously building trust (navy blue is a color of established, dependable brands). The branding is good but not that different from the others… which leaves the price.

Just buy charging far more than the others, the company is telling me that it has the best Kombucha.

I trust it more because it has the confidence to claim the higher price point.

And, as a Kombucha connoisseur who’s not price conscious, the higher price signifies MORE of whatever perceived benefits I think I might be getting. I’m willing to pay more to be a drinker of the finest Kombucha. 

Interestingly, by paying more, I’m more likely to enjoy the beverage, due to choice-supportive bias or post-purchase rationalization.

Similarly, wine drinkers will enjoy their glass more if told it’s a very expensive bottle of fine wine.

With the Kombucha, I’m more likely to sip it slow and try to recognize precisely how this bottle is twice as good as the others (even though I’m fairly certain it’s not even my favorite drink, the experience of drinking a $7 bottle of Kombucha, and of being the type of person who spends that much on fizzy sweet tea with live cultures, is worth paying for.

There was another bottle of Kombucha that didn’t even make it to this lineup. It was a homemade brew from a friend of mine, put in a beer bottle and labeled with masking tape. I haven’t had the courage to open that one yet. It might be the best Kombucha ever, but because it’s homemade, and unprofessionally packaged, and free, I’m not in a hurry to try it out. Especially because I heard that the live cultures in Kombucha could be dangerous, if they aren’t done right.

Conclusion: high price and great branding or packaging is ENOUGH to establish trust and authority.

 

The Healthcare Industry

The US Healthcare industry is a mess. I’ve spent weeks trying to find the best short term health care for the self-employed, and every time I dip my toe in the quagmire, I leave exhausted and without insurance. Google searches show dozens of websites, but most are poorly designed and seem like search-companies who will get a kickback for selling you someone else’s insurance.

I’d rather deal with the real companies themselves, but how do I know which ones are trustworthy? (Especially in an industry I’m already skeptical about – I think most private health insurance companies are going to try not to pay claims, or at least make it a big hassle… but because of the US healthcare system’s ridiculous pricing for emergency care, I know I must be covered or I could end up being royally screwed.)

The problem: travel insurance only covers you 100 miles away from your home city, and mostly abroad, but we’re in the states right now. Short term insurance, meanwhile, is already a gray area, filling a need when people are between “real” coverage but not well supported or regulated.

I don’t want to fill in a ton of personal details or long forms just to find out what I might be covered for and how much it might cost.

But even when they’re upfront about the details, I don’t fully understand how everything works. How do I just go and get a checkup at the dentist, for example? Or see a doctor for insomnia and get a prescription? Do I have to pay out of pocket, then get reimbursed by the company? Why is this so difficult?

What I really want is for someone to just tell me I’m covered for everything I want; someone to walk me through it and convince me. Unfortunately – while this certainly exists in the industry, companies that use hard-sales tactics that call you up and sell you an insurance plan are generally disreputable.

I tried to search for consumer reports or reviews, to get a sense of what insurance providers other people were happy with.

I finally bought something, because the process was simple and straightforward (many other sites didn’t even function properly, so I couldn’t complete the checkout). I have serious doubt that what I bought will do anything for us, and after checking out, the page to download my ID card with details was broken. So not great.

Conclusion: in a complex industry, the winners will make the process simple and straightforward, include testimonials, and have a user-friendly website with all the information. Also, I want the info before I signup or giveaway personal information; I don’t want to be called or aggressively sold something.

 

My Websites

I’ve always known that there were problems with my websites. This one is pretty good, because I don’t try to sell anything. But I screw up the others by trying too hard. Because I’m insecure about my products and don’t want anyone to feel “sold to” – I’m either very relaxed and informal or overly salesy. 

I’ve tried countdown timers AND a massive discount AND a ton of bonuses.

I’m trying too hard for a free download; with tons of testimonials.

Some of the user-feedback I got was that my sites set off “scam warnings” – and that I seemed untrustworthy in my videos, because I was hunched over and didn’t make a lot of direct eye contact.

In short, lack of confidence.

Which is funny, because I have more natural confidence than most people. I’m not at all afraid to do big things and launch them, or rebel against the system, or stand up for injustice… what I don’t have is social confidence. At a party, I’ll be a wallflower or that creepy guy who joins a circle and stands there listening without saying anything.

If people ask my opinion, I’ll give it, but I won’t interrupt and share unless there’s a pause or space for me to do so.

I try to take up as little space as possible.

Recently I took some professional headshots that cost a lot of money, but I think they look cheesy. I chose to use a casual picture of me instead. The feedback was that I looked like I just got out of bed and might also be high.

Too casual.

Part of me says that’s all fine. I’m not trying to be someone I’m not.

And there’s something to be said for authenticity; in experiments, an action as simple as dropping a pen made people like and relate to a salesperson more, because they weren’t perfect. I’m open about screwing up and owning my mistakes. The problem is, if they’re just landing on one of my sites for the first time, there isn’t any time for them to get to know me.

have to claim competence and authority, but the more I do it, the less trustworthy I’ll seem. I can use simple trust-builders like reputable logos, numbers, etc – but the more I try to build up trust the less people will believe me. 

 

It’s a delicate balance. A lot of it can be resolved with better site design and copywriting.

The other thing that was pointed out to me, is that I use weak language.

Instead of saying “this product WILL solve your problem” I’ll say “this MIGHT help you, but it’s not that easy to use and it won’t work for everyone, but don’t worry I’ll give you a refund if you can’t use it.”

People don’t want a refund. They want a solution. They want it to work.

Finally, I’ve had a lot of trouble because I’m trying to go from a free optin offer (free book design templates) to a paid offer (MORE book design templates) but it’s confusing what the difference is between the free and paid offers. It’s not clear what they’re getting or why they should upgrade.

Great products don’t have to be sold.

If people are looking for what you have, and they’ve found it, your job is just to package well, explain the benefits, price attractively, overcome objections or answer questions, and ask for the sale. The more extra bonuses, discounts and deals you offer, the weaker your offer (people don’t buy because of a discount, they buy because they need the thing you have.)

Discounts and bonuses can help motivate but only if the core offer is strong.

This is (mostly) true for books as well.

Extra stuff won’t sell the book. The book sells the book; if the cover and description are good enough and it has some reviews, it will sell itself. Discounts will work to reach a wider audience, and visibility with so much competition is a huge factor (just pricing high, for example, won’t work because nobody will see it).

I have seen authors with a crazy amazing biography, but that doesn’t on its own sell books (reviews are much more important on books, which are on a public platform rather than your personal website…)

What to do about it

The funny thing is, I get fan mail from hundreds of authors who have used my resources – so I know they work and are helpful. If I want to help more authors, I need to figure out how to stop doing all the stuff I’m doing that makes me appear untrustworthy. People are looking for a solution that I have – but because of how I’m presenting myself, they leave without getting the solution they want.

So this year I’m going to focus on making my sites encourage trust.

I want to be the “Wild Tonic” of publishing; with immediate perceived value. I want people who land on my sites to know and recognize the value I can provide, simply and immediately, without me feeling like I have to work and convince them. 

That’s the goal at least. I’ll probably post a before and after case study with conversion statistics later.

UPDATES

The saga continues. This issue goes deeper than I thought. I made a video about what I’m learning:

In it I mention Vanessa Van Edwards book “Captivate” which I’ll rely on heavily to improve my platform. It turns social situations into diagram-playbooks so you know exactly where to stand and what to do. Vanessa says people make an immediate judgement on you within just a few seconds, and they rarely change it. I seriously need to reconsider my first 5 seconds of every interaction, online and off, and make sure I’m communicating in a way that will attract my ideal audience and get them to keep listening.

I also picked up a book on Amazon, “Mass Persuasion Tactics” – I’m really enjoying it so far. Best quote, I’m paraphrasing, “Persuasion isn’t something you DO to other people; persuasion is something people do to themselves in response to your content.”

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me
  • Matt Powers

    Derek, I guess I’m in the minority but I don’t find you untrustworthy. Quite the opposite really. I really like how genuine you come off.

    What I would say, however, is that as an aspiring author who’s just recently started following you, I find it difficult navigating this site in such a way that I can understand how best to make use of what you have to offer.

    Personally, I’d focus some on restructuring the site to make it easier to find your best material, and making sure it’s up to date.

    Regardless, moving forward I wish you the best. As someone just starting out, I find you an inspiration. I hope whatever you choose works well and I look forward to your future content.

    • I’m very trustworthy when you get to know me, and this site isn’t bad – it’s the other sites that have a lot of bounce (maybe 1000 visitors a day, 50 signup on a good day.) 5% isn’t terrible actually but I think I can do better, and I’d rather catch more of the traffic I have than try to go out and find new traffic.

  • Cory Reynolds

    It’s kinda weird, but a couple of times this week I thought “what separates Derek Murphy from all of the other author coaches?” I decided it was because I trust him, which is because I spent the time to “get to know him” through his wealth of resources.
    I think your sites pass the 10 second credibility test, but beyond that it’s easy to notice a lack of confidence. If you can keep your “humble wise man” attitude, without crossing over into no-confidence land, I think it will help you to continue to remain trustable.
    I do have to admit though, whenever you talk about the numbers from over the last six months, I pay attention. Everyone likes a good success story.

    • Yeah I think that’s the solution. I just have to do stuff and say what I’ve done. Sharing how much money I’m making with Kindle sales has nothing to do with confidence. Numbers speak.

  • BooknookBiz

    @creativindie:disqus : is “Mass Persuasion” working for you? As it’s been a few months since you started reading it? I’m thinking about buying it, for a new product we’re launching–any good? Did you learn anything you didn’t already know?

    • yeah I learned a lot from it.

      • BooknookBiz

        Yabbut, not to be an old nag–did you learn stuff that you could actually deploy? Or is it more theoretical than nuts and bolts?

  • Rasna Mondal

    Informative one.

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