Your Network Is Your Secret Weapon

Why relationships are the most important element of growing a business.

By Ben McLellan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Long gone are the days where selling a product or service meant merely making a promise of how it would change the lives of its target audience with a catchy jingle or a housewife's smile.

In the modern age, consumers have become savvier and maybe even slightly more cynical when it comes to the charms of advertisers. Starting in the 1970s, studies have shown that consumers have unfavorable opinions of advertisements. They've seen businesses not fulfill on their big promises and products not live up to the shiny, polished hype that runs rampant on television commercials or in the mouths of charismatic salespeople.

What does that mean for the modern entrepreneur? Well, your customers are demanding better, and it's up to you to deliver. Not only do your products or services have to work exactly as promised, but your customers also have to like and trust you enough to believe what you say when you make those promises.

Related: The 4 Digital Trends That Are Reshaping Advertising

Consumers have been there, done that

Think about the last time you saw an advertisement for a company that made wild claims about what its product or service could do. Maybe it was a late-night infomercial or a company you've never heard of that dropped into your social-media feed.

What was your first gut reaction? Likely, it was skepticism. That is especially true if the product seemed like a value. "This can't possibly do what it says it does," you may even think. You might have tried several different versions or types of products or services that are similar to the same one making much bigger promises in your newsfeed.

This kind of buyer skepticism is rampant in the modern age, which makes advertising without brand recognition or loyalty an impossible feat. That is why relationship-building has replaced the "perfect promise" advertisement, especially when it comes to high-touch, high-price services.

In a world where Google and Yelp reviews are king, your reputation is everything. And it can't be built on empty social-media promises alone.

Related: 6 Tools for Monitoring Your Online Reputation

Trust is more important than the promise itself

You might be wondering why people invest in advertising at all if their audience is expected to be so skeptical. Frankly, it's not about the perfect tagline or image: It's about the content and how it's communicated through that advertising. You need a way to build a bridge to your audience, to foster connection. And advertising without finding a way to prove your credibility or trustworthiness is likely wasted dollars.

Consider how you're presenting your products or services through your content or advertising. Are you merely making promises or are you finding ways to both connect and prove your loyalty to your audience? The latter becomes your only way to truly build brand loyalty.

With unlimited options, why you?

If you've been in business for any extended period of time, you've likely heard the term "know, like and trust." It's built around the concept that your audience needs to know, like and trust you to buy from you. And that's absolutely true.

But it's even more than that. They need to know, like and trust you the most. In addition to being inundated with advertisements, consumers also have unlimited options. All you need is a stroll through the aisles of an American grocery store to understand how true this is today.

Think about your everyday life. When you have unlimited options for a choice you need to make, what is the driver of that choice? The things that tip the scales are almost always desire or interest, the degree of trust or connection and, in some cases, value. But as the relative importance of that choice increases, the weight of value becomes less and less important. For example, if you're having a leg amputated, you're probably not searching merely for the cheapest doctor to perform the surgery.

But when it comes to these decisions you're tapping into your knowledge, trust and personal connection to a company. "I'm going to work with that person again because of how they made me feel the last time I did and because I trust that they will do what they say they will because I've understood this to be true." This becomes the secret sauce of your business.

Related: 11 Networking Tips When You're Crunched for Time

So, instead of focusing on making your product or service shinier and cheaper, how are you building true connection with your customers? Do they trust you? Do they think of you when they consider a purchase in your area of expertise? If not, it's time to work on your connection with them, not another catchy jingle.

Ben McLellan

Founder of Ethical Scaling

Ben McLellan is a papa, husband, coach, friend and musician. He is a voracious student of the game of life and runs the Ethical Scaling consultancy alongside his four awesome team members. He lives the farm life in upstate New York, where he cares for some chickens and sheep in his spare time.

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