Episode 187 : Trust Signals : Key to Customer Experience Decisions

Scott Baradell is a writer and entrepreneur who grew his PR agency Idea Grove, with business generated by its popular blog. Idea Grove is one of the top 25 tech PR agencies in the United States, a three-time Inc. 5000 company, and an inc. Best Workplaces in 2021 and 2022. 

In 2020, Scott started a second blog, Trust Signals, to provide news, analysis, and practical advice on what it takes to build trust with customers and the public in today’s post-truth world. The blog inspired and culminates in this book.  

Before Idea Grove, Scott was the chief communications officer for two Billion Dollar companies. He’s the co-founder and CMO of a venture-backed start-up and an award-winning journalist. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife Maria, and children, Juliet, Benjamin, Jack, Christopher and Maggie.


• Even though I read your bio, which is a formal description of who you are, we love for our guests to tell our audience in their own words a little bit about how they got to where they are today. So, could you share that for us?

• So, can you tell us a little bit about your book Trust Signals, maybe two or three themes that the book talks about and why it’s important if you’re running a business to be aware of some of these things?

• What do you mean by post-truth world?

• Why do you think trust is so crucial for people when they’re making a decision? And do you think it has increased or decreased in recent years?

• What are maybe three to five things that consumers look out for that gives them that confidence that they can trust, they can rely on this organisation?

• We have some listeners who are not very savvy in the online space, but they want to be known as a subject matter expert, what are some steps or trust signals that they could be successful in that online space?

• Could you also share with our listeners what is the one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?

• Could you also share with our listeners, maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you? It could be a book that you read a very long time ago, or even one that you’ve read recently.

• Can you also share with our listeners, Scott, what’s the one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you’re really excited about? Either something you’re working on to develop yourself or your people.

• here can listeners find you online if they wanted to reach out to you?

• Do you have a quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenge, you will tend to revert to this quote? It kind of helps to get you back on track if for any reason you got derailed.


Scott’s Journey

Me: Okay, so we always like to ask our guests at the beginning of the conversation before we even delve into the real juice of our conversation a little bit about your journey, Scott. Even though I read your bio, which is a formal description of who you are, we love for our guests to tell our audience in their own words a little bit about how they got to where they are today. So, could you share that for us?

Scott shared that like a lot of people, a lot of things happen by accident. He started out, not really interested in business, per se, he was a writer, he was interested in history. In college, he was editor of a college newspaper, and then he got tired of spending time in the library and decided not to become a history professor. So, he had to go find a job, his parents basically said, find a job within two months of graduation or your cut off. So, he use his clips, his writing from the newspaper that he was editing to get a newspaper job. And it kind of went from there. 

He was a journalist for 6 years before he kind of saw the writing on the wall there. And then he went into corporate marketing, which he did for about 15 years and then decided back when blogging and things like that on the corporate side, were first starting to emerge that he wanted to be part of that. 

So, he started his own business at that time. But from one space to the next, it was definitely a journey in an evolution where it wasn’t all planned out, it’s what he likes to tell his 15 year old daughter as well as just young professionals, it’s okay, if it’s not all planned out, just go in the direction of what you love, and it should work out.

About Scott’s Book Trust Signals

Scott shared that trust signals are just defined as evidence points in the book, he primarily focuses on evidence points online that make you more likely to trust a brand. So, for example, it could be coming across a positive review of a company where the use case sounds similar to how you might use a product or someone you trust, a creator you trust on social media endorsing a company or a media story in which puts the company in a positive light, these are all things that kind of can create a breadcrumb trail that can lead you to a company’s website or hopefully, you’ve reinforced that website with lots of other trust signals like testimonials and case studies and other third parties saying good things about you. 

So, that’s really the book is about that idea. And he wrote the book specifically with PR people in mind, because PR people have for 100 years primarily defined their roles as getting media coverage, getting their clients mentioned in the media. And in today’s post truth world, there’s so much fragmentation that there aren’t any shared sources of truth anymore. 

People go to the media and the other sources of information influence that they trust. And so, what he tries to communicate to his profession since he was a PR pro after he left journalism is, in this day and age, you have to move beyond just trying to get stories for your clients in the media, you have to look at all these other kinds of trust signals that together, help to help your clients to win over audiences and to grow their businesses.

What Does the Concept Post-Truth World Mean?

Me: So, trust signals are critical as you mentioned to grow your business. You mentioned post truth world and I have kind of an idea of what that concept means but I’d love for you to share with our audience, what do you mean by post-truth world?

Scott shared that what he means, is simply that in today’s world, as opposed, as recently, as 30-40 years ago, the public doesn’t rely on shared sources of truth. It used to be the New York Times was all the news that’s fit to print, but now you’ve got probably a third of the country that says they don’t believe a word in that publication. People get on the internet, and algorithms all pointing them towards information that confirms what they already think about things. They go into rabbit holes where they can dive deeper and deeper in a one perspective on things, which could be very different from someone else’s and someone else’s. And it didn’t used to be that way. It used to be that you had a relatively small number of large media organisations that served as kind of the gatekeepers for information, the gatekeepers for public opinion, and it’s not like that anymore.

The Importance of Trust and Has It Increased or Decreased in Recent Years

Me: And in an organisation, right, you have customers and well, there is the popular saying that people buy from people who they know, like and trust. And I still believe that to this day, despite all of the technology and artificial intelligence and just so much that has advanced I think that concept still remains whether it’s an individual or an organisation. Why do you think trust is so crucial for people when they’re making a decision? And do you think it has increased or decreased in recent years?

Scott shared that well, it’s crucial to not just business but everything, you’re not going to get in your car and drive to the supermarket if you are worried that the red light at the traffic stop is not going to work or that when the green light goes that a car coming from the other way is not going to go, you’re trusting that they’re going to stop.

Our whole society, everything we do, is built around this intricate system of trust. Most of the time we don’t even think about and you’re simply not going to buy anything from someone who you don’t trust them, because it’s impossible to vet almost any product unless you’ve already used it and it’s the same product thoroughly enough without believing in the source of the product you’re buying in. 

That’s kind of the shorthand that all of us use every day to figure out who I should buy from, who I should work with, who I should work for. An employee is going to potentially someone who’s looking for job is going to look at their employer’s glass door ratings before they go work there, that’s a trust signal. And if they did find a company they want to work for and they put their resume together, they’re going to put in all the best endorsements and kudos they can think of and those are trust signals. So, it makes the world go round.  

But you asked, do you think it’s decreased? He doesn’t think it’s decreased because he thinks it’s kind of immutable. He thinks that we need it. 

Studies go back to even before the earliest days of mankind, and even to primates and stuff in their hunting rituals, they do trust building rituals before they go out and hunt in a group to make sure that they will support each other and share their kills, for example. So, it’s just intrinsic to every form of human relationships. So, a lot of people said, “Oh, it’s post-trust, not just post-truth, but post-trust, people don’t trust anymore.” And he would say that it’s not trust, a trust deficit so much as a trust displacement. 

In other words, you used to trust certain big institutions that you don’t trust anymore. And so, you have to go find something else to trust. It’s like, a big example in politics would be Donald Trump, for example. Donald Trump is someone who many, many people would consider very untrustworthy, however, in looking at his following, it’s important to understand that clearly one of the reasons he’s been able to develop this following is that many of those people had faith and trust in institutions that they lost that trust in. And people can’t be without trust, they had to find somewhere else to put it. And they invested their trust in this person. So, in that way, he says trust is displaced, sometimes you’re confused about where to put it. But you almost can’t live life without putting it somewhere.

Things Consumers Should Look Out For That Gives Them Confidence to Trust an Organization

Me: So, could you also share with our listeners, maybe, I would say, three to five things that as a consumer you should be looking out for or what are maybe three to five things that consumers look out for that gives them that confidence that they can trust, they can rely on this organisation?

Scott shared that he can give you an actual example, from someone who works for him. She had a baby recently, before she had the baby, she and her husband had been planning a nursery and they’d gone over budget for the nursery. And so, they still hadn’t bought a crib mattress and so, they just said, “Let’s go get the cheapest crib mattress we can find because we busted our budget already.” So, Laurie is her name, she was going to go do that and then she remembered that like a year earlier, before she’d even become pregnant, that there was an influencer, creator that she followed on Instagram, who was talking about the importance of getting a non-toxic crib mattress, and that had stuck in her mind. 

And so, even though her inclination was to just go buy something inexpensive, that stuck in her mind, so she did a Google search on safest crib mattresses. And, sure enough, she could recognize the name of the crib mattress that this influencer on Instagram had mentioned a year earlier. And then once she found that then she looked and looked up all the reviews she could find online, found a bunch of 4- and 5-star reviews. And then that drew her in further and then she found that there was an article in Parents Magazine, saying good things about this crib mattress. 

And then finally she went to the company’s website and found out they had a seal from the certifying organisation that was vetting non-toxic, environmentally friendly products. And then finally, she was already on the website and she bought the product. And all of those are examples of things that consumers use as a collection of trust signals that they follow to either make a purchase or whatever destination they’re trying to go to.

Me: Brilliant, that’s really good. And she did quite a few steps. She did her due diligence thoroughly.

And most people do and when he tells PR people and when he tells that story to them, he says, but would she have bought the crib mattress if she had just seen the Parents Magazine article? Probably not. So, why are you only focusing on that? Why don’t you give your customer what they want, your customer wants you to help them build trust.

Trust Signals that Can Be Used to be Successful in the Online Space

Me: So, let’s say for example, we have some listeners who are not very savvy in the online space, but they want to be known as a subject matter expert. Similar to what you were saying, that Instagram influencer was able to lodge that piece of information in her mind, right? And it stayed with her up to a whole year later. What are some things that you could do online to establish trust in an online space? Because it’s so hard, there’s so much noise, there’s so many different platforms. And I mean, I know everyone has their own audience and at the end of the day, if that customer is meant for you, they will come to you because whatever message you’re sending out there, your message will be attracted to them. But what are some steps or trust signals that they could be successful in that online space?

Scott stated that if someone’s interested in becoming a subject matter expert or influencer or building their own personal brand, there’s really no substitute for producing great content. People don’t know you, they haven’t met you in person and they’re only going to know who you are, if you show them who you are online. So, he would start by two things, figuring out what channel is most important, are most relevant to your goals that can be LinkedIn. His agency works primarily with B2B tech clients. So, LinkedIn is typically the most important channel. But on your audience, it could be Tik Tok, or Instagram or Twitter or something else. So, it can seem definitely overwhelming out there. So, it’s always best to start with a single channel. 

He’ll tell you a channel that he used that helped him tremendously when he was starting to write the book is Quora. Quora is a great channel for questions and answers. And maybe you don’t always want to talk about PR and marketing, maybe you want to talk about a movie or something like that, it kind of gets your juices flowing in terms of writing. And what he likes about Quora is that, generally, the comments and the engagement is respectful compared to like a Twitter or somewhere where it can be so nasty. So, for him, everyone’s different. But whatever channel you choose, choose one channel to start with, and build out from there. 

He’s seen again, and again, people that start out on TikTok, for example, build a following, they move over and add Twitter, they move over and add LinkedIn or start on Twitter and then add LinkedIn. So, that’s definitely the way to go. Don’t try to do it all at once. That’s the first most important thing. 

And then just like you want to be focused in terms of your channel, be focused in terms of your content. There’s so much content out there, it’s overwhelming, and half of its being generated by ChatGPT now, so how do you stand out the two ways you stand out, are by talking about the same thing, not the same exact thing, but the same general thing that you’re building over and over and over again, because what someone told him once is, by the time you’ve talked about something 100 times, maybe you might feel tired of it, but the people you’re trying to reach are just now hearing it. 

So just keep going, keep trying to find new wrinkles, find new ways to stay excited about it, don’t move on to some totally different topic before you even build an audience for the first one. So, he thinks being focused in terms of your channel, and focused in terms of your content are the most important things.

App, Website or Tool that Scott Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

When asked about an online resource that he cannot live without in his business, Scott stated that in his business, they produce a lot of content and content is not very valuable if people aren’t seeing it so for him, he’s a huge fan of Google Search Console in their everyday for sure for checking their own two websites. They have Idea Grove, which is his agency, their website, the agency website, as well as the Trust Signals website. He’s looking at that everyday for insights into what content is resonating, what content to produce next, and really helps to inform and drive strategy and they use it for their clients too. He’s got a lot other tools he uses, but that’s probably his favourite.

Books that Have Had the Biggest Impact on Scott

When asked about books that have had impact, Scott shared that there’s a book he read a long time ago, actually in college, which unfortunately, was a very long time ago for him but it stayed with him. And it informed a lot of choices he made since actually. It’s a book called Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, it was written by a historian named Richard Kluger. And he encountered this book, which is a very long one, it’s thick, in a yearlong legal history class in college at University of Virginia, and the book was basically a history of illegal cases, which sounds extremely boring. But what it was, that was so amazing, was it was a sweeping history of the entire African American experience as told through the American legal system. 

So, in other words, from Dred Scott to Brown versus Board of Education, everything in between, before and after. He took all of these court cases and told the human story behind them in such a way that it was like reading a novel that you couldn’t put down and told him that taking something that someone would inherently think, is not that exciting and making it exciting, is really fun, it’s a fun challenge. 

He works in B2B Tech, or his agency, and they work with some clients that work in very arcane spaces, they do this fairly obscure stuff, sometimes they think they’re boring, they’re like, “Oh, you can’t do anything for us, we’re too boring, you can’t get PR for us we’re boring.” But to unlock that and capture the story in there, because there’s always a story in there somewhere, to capture that, and to have the client kind of light up, because you help them find that is really exciting. And he kind of, in a lot of ways, goes back to that book and how he went from “Oh, boy, this long book of legal cases to wow” this book that he couldn’t put down, it’s definitely had a big influence on him.

What Scott is Really Excited About Now!

When asked about something that he’s really excited about, Scott shared that something that’s exciting that they’re doing now is they’ve began offering their first package product, they’re a traditional agency, so like lawyers or accountants, they build by the hour, basically, they sell their time, that’s what most agencies do. They’ve never had a product per se, but they found they’ve had a lot of success with a specific kind of digital PR campaign where they kind of combined PR and SEO, they put out this really cool piece of content, which is a survey, a base piece of content that ties to their clients, industry, and got it gotten a tonne of media coverage and links back to their client site from them. 

But they realised that they could package it up and just sell it separately and do it the same way every time to increase margin on it. And so, they’ve been having a lot of success selling a product as an agency, this offering and they’ve never done that before and Idea Grove has been around a long time now and they’re all really excited about, doing something they haven’t done before, that’s always fun.

Where Can We Find Scott Online

Website – www.trustsignals.com

He did a lot of the work that led up to the book on that site. Not only that, but if you’re interested in the book, but don’t want to go out and spend $20.00 on it. He’s excerpted the entire book chapter by chapter on that site for free, and he’s also now started a podcast where he’s breaking down the audio book into chapter by chapter, so, that’s available for free. So, all of that if you go to www.trustsignals.com, you can find links to either the audio or text version of the book or Kindle version as well. As well as a lot of other stuff, as well as contact information if you’d like to reach him directly.

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Scott Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Scott shared that there’s a great quote by a Japanese poet named Kenji Miyazawa from maybe 100 years ago, but he said, “We must take pain and use it as fuel for our journey.” At times, where he’s had loss or other setbacks that are very hard, and you just kind of want to give up. It’s a really good statement of what life really is. 

Life is about resilience, and no one goes through life without having things that they have to endure and suffering. And if you can come out the other side, and burn it as fuel for your journey, he thinks that’s a great way to take something hard and turn it into a positive.

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·  Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality by Richard Kluger

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