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Become More Believable and Trustworthy: 
A Credibility Checklist for Copywriters

by Marcia Yudkin

When people discover your offerings for the first time, they consciously or unconsciously go through a process of wondering whether or not to believe that you will deliver what you promise. Can they trust that they'll be happy having bought from you?

Credibility is also at stake when established customers need to decide whether or not to purchase something new you're dangling in front of them. You say they need it, you explain that it's a must-have, but will they believe what you say about its value?

Use these two checklists to make sure you've bolstered your credibility with either group to the greatest extent possible. To polish up a winning pitch, implement the credibility builders below and eliminate the credibility killers.

Credibility Builders

1. Provide background information. A marketing company tried to get me to attend a webinar on a new law, but they didn't tell me enough for me to know whether or not the law would affect me. A link to the law would have settled my question – either because it showed that the law would or would not have an impact on me or because I would see that the law was definitely too complicated for me to decipher on my own.

2. Offer the source of any data, numbers or statistics you mention. Providing facts is never as helpful as also saying who established those facts. When you state that your numbers come from a 2010 University of Calgary study or the Centers for Disease Control, you bolster your overall trustworthiness, not only the believability of those stats.

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3. Include third-party commentary. Did legendary management expert Peter Drucker originally make your point? Can you quote clients of yours on the results they have achieved from your work? Has a major media outlet sung your praises? The more respected and numerous those third parties, the more readers are willing to trust you.

4. Anticipate objections. "But, but, but…" is often running through people's minds as they consider your sales pitch. To the extent you counteract those concerns and quiet half-baked doubts, you increase the likelihood of prompting the eventual response you want.

5. Document the consequences of not acting. Had the marketer of that webinar laid out in gory detail the fines and jail terms in store for those breaking the new law, I would have been more persuaded by her claim that I had to inform myself about it. Gunning for donations? Show a photo of a turtle who's doomed unless donors save its habitat. When you're selling an automated web service, explain how much time a non-user spends needlessly and list the hassles he needs to deal with.

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6. Describe the credentials of those involved. Too many times, I've read vague bios containing fluffy marketing-speak instead of solid degrees, documented achievements and number of years in business. Venture capitalists say they invest as much in the people leading their projects as in the ideas, and ordinary customers often think the same way.

7. Show examples of what you mean. The other day while I was listening to a Napoleon Hill lecture, I wasn't sure I believed him when he claimed he could do or get anything he set his mind to – anything. But then he told a story about how he obtained a Rolls Royce within a week when he did not have the $250,000 needed to buy it. Then I nodded my head, persuaded.

8. Provide evidence of your success. In Internet marketing circles, screen shots of dated earnings and payment checks were de rigueur for a long while, until people realized how easily they could be faked. Even so, photographs of you rubbing shoulders with the mayor or lugging the day's outgoing packages to the post office can help make your story come to life believably.

9. Demonstrate it. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video demonstration is worth a hundred thousand. You've probably noticed that the kinds of products you see advertised in TV infomercials again and again are those where dramatic footage proves the product works as advertised. In other situations, before-and-after photos can sometimes equal the "show me" power of a video. 

10. Be specific. When you say that 61 out of 62 beta testers improved their typing speed with your program, that is far more credible than saying "most," "the vast majority" or even "nearly everyone." Non-rounded numbers, such as 98 rather than 100 or 467,000 instead of "half a million" are always more convincing because people assume they derive from counting rather than estimating.

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11. Add a guarantee. The fact that you're willing to back up your promise with a guarantee often cuts off doubt at the knees. Note that your guarantee need not promise the customer's money back if they are not satisfied. "The mice will be gone or we'll re-treat your house until they are" or "You're completely satisfied with your haircut or the next one is free" are two other types of guarantees that boost confidence.

12. Be consistent. As reported in Target Marketing magazine in August 2010, the Mayo Clinic had to dial back techniques recommended by consultants, such as carnival-barker headlines or garish colors, because they clashed with their image as a prestigious medical institution. Though such techniques worked for other organizations, they lowered the Mayo Clinic's response rates. Besides the overall tone and approach, check for consistency in details, too.

Credibility Killers

1. Typos or factual mistakes. According to seven studies performed by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab, even the smallest mistakes affect people's willingness to trust what you have written. Although errors have been known to slip by even professional proofreaders, you must do your best to eliminate typographical and spelling mistakes to maintain the trust of readers. 

2. Appearing out of date. When a blog or web site obviously hasn't been touched in months, the individual or organization behind it becomes less credible. Why? Because the world changes as time moves along, and we tend to trust those who keep in step. Something that implies that "June 2009" lies in the future or that cites George W. Bush as the current U.S. president is jarring to us and takes the whole surroundings down a notch.

3. Exaggeration or hyperbole. I once spotted a company claiming to be the only healthy eating franchise. That was so grossly unlikely that I couldn't possibly believe anything else they wrote. Take special care with dramatic adjectives like "revolutionary" or "unique," because when someone realizes you are actually offering the same-old same-old, your credibility tumbles into the gutter.

4. Ungrounded accolades. Google Adwords does not allow advertisers to use the words "best" or "#1" unless some third party, such as a magazine or contest, attests to that top status. Can your language pass that test? If you have superlatives and self-praise floating around in your copy without any grounding in "who says so," discerning consumers sense something shifty or unreliable about you.

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5. Seemingly too good to be true. Here you may have something provably true that surpasses what your audience is willing to believe. If so, you may need to understate the case so you don't confront reader resistance. The firm Marketing Experiments, for example, reports a situation where a business-to-business marketer had to stop claiming a 638 percent improvement in return on investment because prospective clients did not believe that was possible, even though in fact it had taken place.

6. Asterisks or small print. Don't put out something bold and outrageous only to take it back with an asterisk or small print. For instance, "free" means something costs nothing. You slam enthusiasm and respect to a halt when you explain later that people need to pay $19.99 shipping and handling for the "free" item.

Always assume that your audience is skeptical, regardless of whether or not they already know you. Earn trust with credibility, and the sales follow.

Copyright 2011 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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