5 steps to build trust through language
Updated: Oct 9
Other than having a good product or service, there’s probably nothing more important to your business than earning the trust of your clients.
Trust is what gains you new customers. It’s what keeps those customers coming back. And it’s what turns them into ambassadors for your brand, recommending you to their friends and colleagues.
But, as in any relationship, trust is something that has to be earned. It’s not automatic – you need to take active steps to show people that you’re worthy. And the way you communicate is a big part of that process.
Here are 5 steps to help you build that trust through your writing.
Step 1: be consistent
Before you do anything too ambitious, it pays to get the basics right. Consistency across your communications is the first step in building trust with your audience. People interact with your business in lots of different ways – they might see an advert on social media, or read a physical brochure, or speak to a salesperson over the phone – and those different channels all need to tie together.
Without consistency, your brand will be weak and confusing. So how do you build trust through consistency?
Tone of voice
A tone of voice guide that’s easy to understand and implement is a must for any medium or large business. When lots of people are writing for your brand, you need everyone to work from one common set of guidelines.
Usually, these guidelines are a tone of voice section within the brand guidelines. Sometimes they include style rules that everyone should follow. In some cases (like the Mailchimp example above), it's more of an overall content or writing guide.
But more important than the guide itself is the training you run to support it. Lots of tone of voice guides sit on the intranet never being used, but a fun training session in how to use it can help bring it to life.
It's easy to fall into the trap of writing what you want to say, not what readers need to know. But what you want to say might be very different from what the sales team want to say. And what they want to say might be different again from what the accounts team want to say. A consistent message, focused on solving your client's challenges, is essential if you want people to trust you.
To get everyone started, why not create some example comms or templates that people can adapt for different situations? Less confident writers will benefit from seeing something they can aspire to, and more confident writers will benefit from a real example that explains your approach.
Step 2: be authentic
People don’t trust faceless corporations. But they can learn to trust real people. If you want to build a relationship with your audiences so you can begin to earn their trust, you need to show your personality. Authenticity is a vital factor in getting people on your side.
It often just takes small tweaks. You could update your team bios to better reflect who you are as people. The 'about us' pages are some of the first areas your web visitors might explore, so your team need to come across as approachable and interesting.
After the bios are sorted, take a look at other areas where you can sound more human.
As well as having serious implications for people’s health and the NHS, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to have a significant impact on businesses and the economy. As the situation develops, we’re updating our analysis of the UK economic impact regularly to help you with your response and planning. New and updated insights will be available at the end of each month.
PwC UK economic update
This PwC example shows that just using simple language and the words 'we' and 'you' can make a big difference to how you sound. Professional services has traditionally been a very corporate-sounding world, but the everyday language here is refreshing.
Whether it's telling stories about staff members on your news pages or using less business-speak in your content and outbound comms, lots of small tweaks can build up a picture of your organisation and the people within it. And the more your clients know about you, the more they’ll learn to trust you.
Dial down the formality
The professional world is becoming much more relaxed, from working at home in pyjamas to communicating in a more personal way. Making your writing seem more authentic can be as simple as writing more like you speak. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to use more contractions: it’s, can’t, they’re.
Some people think contractions in writing are unprofessional – but readers nearly always appreciate any effort to sound more relatable. Try reading your copy out loud and putting in the contractions wherever it seems natural – you don’t need to use them everywhere, just scatter them throughout the copy.
The only place you shouldn’t really use them is if it’s very important to be clear about an instruction. ‘Must not’ is far stronger and clearer than ‘mustn’t’, for example.
Step 3: be empathetic
Some business comms are so cold and impersonal that they’ll never earn anyone’s trust. It’s especially true within certain industries like insurance or finance that traditionally speak in a very corporate voice. But if you don’t understand or relate to your reader, you won’t ever build a strong relationship with them.
People want to feel like they’re understood and listened to. Showing empathy in your communications will show your readers that you care. Trust is a natural next step.
We've written a blog post about how to show empathy in your writing.
Explain things clearly
Perhaps the best thing you can do to show your reader you care about them is to use straightforward language, especially for complex topics. Straightforward doesn't mean 'dumbing down'. It means showing you know a subject so well that you can summarise it in language anyone can understand.
Taking the time to present an argument clearly and simply shows you’ve thought about your reader. It shows you value their time enough to not waste it with unnecessary detail. Since many business readers are too busy to wade through complicated text, you’ll come across as considerate and aware of their busy schedules.
Cut out any jargon specific to your industry unless it’s a necessary technical term
Ask a family member to read your copy and see if they can understand it
If you need a long paragraph to explain something, consider alternative formats like an infographic, a video or a bullet point list
Step 4: be bold
The first three steps are essential. But they’re not enough. If you want people to respect your brand, you need to stand for something or try to look different from others in your space. Being bold will make others pay attention and trust that you’re capable enough to deliver.
If you can carve yourself a niche, people will respect you as the expert in that area.
Choose interesting words
An unusual word here or there really stands out. If your writing is technically OK but lacking a bit of oomph, try adding some evocative language. Strong verbs are especially useful as they help to drive the text forward.
This example is from Salesforce, definitely one of the leaders in their fields. They could say 'CRM solutions creating success for businesses of all sizes' but that would be boring. 'Blaze a trail' is much bolder and makes the reader pay attention.
Write punchy sentences and paragraphs
You don’t need to stick to really short sentences all the time. But most business writing could have a lot more impact if it wasn’t so long and complicated. Short sentences are easy to read. And that kind of clarity makes people believe what you’re saying.
Around 8-10 words per sentence is a good average. Any more than 20 in a single sentence is pushing it.
Step 5: be helpful
While good content can persuade people to buy from you, not everything you write should be about getting money from your reader. Useful and interesting content is valuable in its own right – it will get people reading, and if they agree with you, they’ll trust your recommendations later on.
This screenshot is from the Virgin website. Instead of the usual corporate blog about new services or stock valuations, there are regular articles from Richard Branson on everything from entrepreneurship to conservation. It doesn't hurt to have a big name behind the posts, but interesting content related to your brand (but not directly selling it) will always add to your reputation.
Of course, this is the whole point of content marketing. Think about what expertise you can offer and create content that builds on it. If what you’re saying is backed up by real experience, readers will trust your word. And when they need services in your area of expertise, they’ll know who to turn to.