Chapter 13: Making Connections— User Experience

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Published: Feb 6, 2023

(Following is Chapter 13 of  Trust Signals: Brand Building in a Post-Truth World.)

Jeff Bezos once famously said, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.”

I’ll take that wisdom a step further. The true test of a brand is whether its customers treat it like a person. Branding, after all, is about conferring human traits on things that aren’t human in order to build trust—and to use that trust to create value.

Think about it: every company—even household names like Amazon, Nike, and Disney—is ultimately nothing more than a set of documents filed by a lawyer somewhere. Corporations are legal entities created specifically to keep their activities separate from those of the people who formed them (for liability, tax, and other reasons).

And despite the US Supreme Court granting corporations the rights and protections of “personhood,” they are decidedly not human (Torres-Spelliscy 2014). Not only that, but the humans who are part of these entities—founders, leaders, employees, shareholders—can come and go as they please. If they all departed at once, all that would be left is the legal filings.

So what is a corporation at its heart?

The answer is up to you as a marketer, entrepreneur, or CEO. Its heart is the heart you give it.


Given the fact that every person who is part of a business can leave it at any time, it makes sense that Job 1 for any brand is to communicate continuity. Branding is not a marketing gimmick; it’s the glue that holds companies together.

Whenever a shareholder sells their stock in a company, the buyer has certain expectations of continuity. The company’s leadership is expected to meet these expectations—not only in terms of financial performance, but by having a predictable business model that shareholders can count on for the long term.

That’s where branding comes in. Branding communicates the enduring qualities of a company’s business model.

It says, “This is the kind of person we are—if we were actually a person.

So Disney is family-oriented, fun, and magical. Nike is active, bold, and inspirational. And so on.

To the extent a company’s logo, colors, products, advertising, and other projections of itself support these traits, the brand builds continuity—which, over time, can become a company’s most valuable asset.

Brands further humanize themselves by engaging with the world beyond their product. This includes embracing social purpose, which we discussed in the last chapter, and thought leadership, which we will discuss in Chapter 15. You might think of social purpose and thought leadership as the heart and head of your brand.

Unfortunately, cool logos and big ad campaigns are what too many marketers and business leaders focus on in their branding efforts. They would do well to remember the ultimate reason their brand exists in the first place: to project a consistent face for the business.


That’s what makes user experience so important to building trust. Brands must be ruthlessly consistent in how they present themselves across multiple channels and touchpoints. That’s challenging but crucial—because if you’re inconsistent, your audiences won’t be sure of who you really are.

Think of it this way. When you first meet a person, you start to develop ideas about them based on your interactions. If they act differently toward you from one day to the next, you eventually begin to distrust them. You’re not sure exactly who you’re dealing with.

It’s the same way with brands. If your website copy is formal and detached but your email marketing is casual and intimate, your buyers begin to wonder about you. Brand inconsistency leads to mixed signals and, ultimately, mistrust.

That’s why user experience should start with your website but must then extend to all of your brand’s owned media, defined as anything under the brand’s direct control, such as your blog, emails, social media channels, and sell sheets. Your brand must also establish relevance with your customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey.


We listed twenty-nine website trust signals in Chapters 4 and 5, ranging from third-party trust seals to professional design and quality content. Extending the scope of user experience to all owned media, the three key pillars of user experience strategy are as follows:

  1. Trust-centered website design. Your website is your home online; make it feel like home for your visitors, too. 
  2. Owned media strategy. Establish a message and voice that is consistent across every vehicle you own or control.
  3. Full-funnel content strategy. The keys to building trust at every stage of the marketing funnel are empathy and relevance.

By repeating the same messaging, tone, and visual identity across all owned media, a consistent user experience increases brand recall, while building the trust that comes with a steady brand voice.

If you’ve done your research, this voice will resonate with your buyers and other audiences.

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Have you ever noticed how many brands use the color blue in their logos and on their websites?

The reason is simple: they want you to trust them.

Blue is the single most frequently used color in corporate logos. It’s especially common in brands where trust is paramount, such as financial services, cybersecurity, and healthcare.

Why the connection between blue and trust?

The most common theory is that we typically have positive associations with blue—and from the sky to the sea, these associations evoke feelings of security and permanence. Research has consistently shown blue to be the favorite color of both men and women worldwide.

Etymologically, the term “true blue” has been used to describe trustworthiness for centuries. In the Late Medieval Period, the town of Coventry, England, was known for its talented dyers. Dyeing clothing and fabrics in those days—using sometimes poisonous berries and plants to create pigment—was a job that was both tedious and dangerous. The dyers of Coventry were renowned for producing blue cloth that could be trusted to never fade.

The phrase “as true as Coventry blue” was shortened to “true blue” and the rest is history.

Don’t Be Blue: It’s OK to Be a Different Color, Too

With trust being so important to buyers, and buyers associating trust with the color blue, does that mean it’s always preferable to include blue in your brand’s logo?

Definitely not.

First and foremost, your company’s branding should help set you apart from the competition. If every competitor in your space has a blue logo, having blue as the dominant color in your logo will make it that much harder for you to stand out.

At Idea Grove, we work with many midsize B2B tech brands

in highly competitive markets where our clients must fight tooth and nail for their share of attention—and customers—while facing much larger players.

We recently completed a visual branding project in which the logo we created had purple and black as its dominant colors. Based on color theory, the purple communicates imagination and luxury, while the black grounds the logo in authority. This combination was perfect for a brand that wanted to communicate creativity while being taken seriously by its Fortune 500 clients.

The client’s logo inspires trust by reinforcing the qualities that set it apart. It’s a subconscious trust signal that the company backs up its words with its actions.

Trust signals like color might be subconscious, but they are trust signals nonetheless. Be sure to align them with your brand.

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Strategy #1: Trust-Centered Website Design

If you’ve ever solicited bids for a website project, you’ve no doubt had agencies come and present to you. You might have noticed the majority of the pitches fall into one of two camps.

Some firms try to wow you with visually acrobatic designs that have an appeal similar to a fireworks display.

Boom. Bang. Pop.

Other agencies talk about transactional lead generation. They seem to think telling your company’s story is a simple arithmetic equation.

Input content, output sales.

It doesn’t work that way.

The reality is this:

If your visitors don’t believe you, nothing else matters.

That means your first priority should be to find an agency that understands audience trust and how to achieve it.

At Idea Grove, we call it trust-centered web design.

A trust-centered web design firm takes the time to understand your business, your product, your customers, and your other audiences. It knows the trust signals that make a visitor want to learn more about you. Understanding and applying these trust signals requires knowledge and expertise.

Because without trust, the visual pyrotechnics and lead-gen formulas mean nothing.

Why Your About Us Page Is Crucial to Building Trust

One of the website trust signals we referenced in Chapter 5 is the About Us page.

For many brands, the About Us page is the second most popular destination after the home page. That means your visitors want to know who you are and what you’re about—and they may never make it to your product and pricing pages if they don’t like what they see.

I advise my agency’s clients to approach the task of creating an About Us page boldly—like a superhero origin story.

Have you ever wondered why so many superhero movies are origin stories—focused on that moment when a regular person becomes a superhero? Some argue that audiences love to witness the dramatic change when an ordinary person becomes superhuman. We fantasize about making that transformation ourselves, the theory goes.

I disagree, though. I think their true appeal is best explained by the clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg (2013). Writing for Smithsonian Magazine, she put it this way:

I think origin stories show us not how to become super but how to be heroes, choosing altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power . . . At their best, superhero origin stories inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose.

And that is the model that every business should use to describe itself to its audiences.

What’s Your Superhero Story?

Telling your superhero story begins with the nuts and bolts— the 5Ws:

  • Who are your company’s leaders?
  • What are your company’s mission and goals?
  • When did you realize you had an idea that could help people?
  • Where are you better than the other guys?
  • Why should buyers trust you enough to do business with you?

Most About Us pages include some or all of these components. Unfortunately, they are often written as an afterthought and with little narrative flair. That’s a huge missed opportunity.
So, are you ready to give your own origin story the superhero treatment? Believe me, you can do it.
To inspire you, here’s an example—from the San Francisco- based Yellow Leaf Hammocks:

In 2011, while on vacation in Thailand, our co-founder Joe embarked on an impromptu motorcycle adventure that led him to discover the world’s most comfortable hammock hanging outside a hut on a tiny island.
The hammocks were unlike anything Joe had ever seen or felt before, and he knew he had to share them with the world. He bought as many as he could fit in his backpack and headed home, ready to turn his vacation dream into a reality.

Joe teamed up with his now-wife Rachel to establish Yellow Leaf— bringing a curated collection of beautifully crafted, ultra-comfortable hammocks to the masses, while giving back to the original crafters of the world’s most comfortable hammocks.

Each individual Yellow Leaf hammock is handwoven with the utmost precision and care by the expert craftswomen of the Mlabri Tribe—“the people of the yellow leaves”—in the hills of Northern Thailand. Across three weaving communities, we are working to create jobs for mothers and build a foundation for positive community transformation.

Doing good while relaxing? We can hang with that.

That’s a superhero story. And I believe if you dig deep enough, every brand has one—unique to its own audience, brand message, and voice.

Delivering trust signals like this throughout your website is the essence of trust-centered design.

Strategy #2: Owned Media

While your website should be the center of gravity for your brand’s online presence, it shouldn’t be your whole world.

Ever since Benjamin Franklin first published Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote his printing business in 1732, businesses have used a wide variety of owned media, from mail-order catalogs to travel guides to company magazines, to build trust and grow their brands.

Some brands have taken off with blogs, like Moz, which has become as well-known for SEO news as it has for SEO software, and podcasts, like AARP’s The Perfect Scam, a true-crime series that dramatically increased the visibility of the nonprofit group’s Fraud Watch Network.

And LEGO achieved perhaps the greatest owned-media feat of all—turning out a series of Hollywood blockbusters promoting its little plastic bricks, starting with The LEGO Movie in 2014.

Of course, you don’t need to go that big. Owned media also includes the monthly newsletter you send to your email list and the tweets and posts you share on social media.

That’s why every brand needs an overarching owned-media strategy that accounts for the online assets you control or manage, including the following:

  • Your blog
  • Your company newsletters
  • Your marketing emails
  • Your webinars
  • Your podcast
  • Your explainer video
  • Your demo video
  • Your YouTube channel
  • Your original music
  • Your social media posts
  • Your sell sheets
  • Your sales decks
  • Your online magazines
  • Your catalogs
  • Forums you manage
  • Secondary websites or apps
  • Live chat and texts

Owned media tends to be a longer-term investment than earned or paid media. It takes time to build a blog readership, podcast audience, email subscriber list, or social media following. So it’s important to choose your investments wisely based on audience research and budget priorities.
It’s better not to start a podcast at all than to abandon it after a few episodes. That’s wasted time and effort.
And it commits the greatest brand sin of all: inconsistency.

Creating Consistency across Owned Media

As we discussed at the outset of this chapter, the first job of branding is not creativity—it’s continuity.
So what’s the best way to maintain a consistent look, voice, and message across all your owned-media channels—which each might be managed by different in-house sta or external agencies?
The key is to create, set, and communicate brand standards and to make sure they are observed across your organization.
Your brand standards should include both visual design standards and brand messaging guidelines. Brand guides establish rules for logo usage, fonts, colors, and typography, along with the brand’s positioning, purpose, and personality.
A brand’s message platform should contain the following components:

  • Brand essence—the core benefit you deliver to buyers Brand voice—the personality of your brand
  • Brand purpose—how you make the world a better place
  • Brand positioning—how you differentiate yourself in the market
  • Elevator pitch—how you describe yourself to the market
  • Messaging framework—key taglines, value proposition, and three or more core message statements with proof points

The message platform tells your audiences who you are and what you’re about at a high level. Each new piece of content—be it a web page, marketing email, social media post, etc.—should refer back to your brand messaging guidelines. 

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With the exploding popularity of smart speakers, podcasts, and live audio streams, a new form of brand building has emerged: sonic branding.

While most companies’ brand identities remain overwhelmingly visual, more marketers are coming around to the idea that their brand should have a specific sonic signature—a kind of aural tagline. 

Some brands have taken things a step further. In June of this year, Mastercard released its first album of original music, featuring songs incorporating “the recognizable melody of Mastercard’s brand sound.”

What kind of music should your brand choose to incorporate in the user experience? The answer depends on your audience.

How Music Inspires Trust

We all know that music inspires feelings in its listeners; it also increases our oxytocin levels. While this hormone is most closely associated with love, it also makes it easier for us to trust.

That means if you are a company looking for new ways to build trust in your brand, your choice of music is important.

Here’s how to select the best music to instill trust in your buyers:

#1: Start with Your Brand Identity

Your brand’s essence is the emotional benefit your company or product delivers. For ADT, it is peace of mind, for example, while for Red Bull, it is energy. The music you use should reflect your brand’s essence.

Multiple studies confirm that consumers’ musical genre preferences can be sorted into four qualitative categories:

  • Reflective and complex (classical, jazz, folk, blues)
  • Intense and rebellious (rock, alternative, heavy metal)
  • Upbeat and conventional (country, pop, soundtracks, religious)
  • Energetic and rhythmic (rap, soul, electronica)

One of those four can be a starting point for mapping music to your brand identity.

#2: Align Your Genre Choice with Buyer Demographics

Let’s say your brand is an upstart innovator that is disrupting its industry. You might want to choose music that is “rebellious” to highlight this trait.

But how do you choose between rock, alternative, and heavy metal? That’s where demographic information can be helpful.

Are your brand’s buyers typically aged forty-five to fifty-four? In that case, you might wish to go with classic rock, which is more popular than alternative or metal with that age group.

#3: Take into Account Buyer Interests and Values

Just as you should take your target customers’ demographics into account, you should also consider their values and interests. If you’re marketing alternative-lifestyle products, for example, the Billboard Hot 100 is not likely to be the best soundtrack for your message.

Let’s take the alignment with buyer values a step further. Say your business sells sustainable or locally sourced products. Many indie artists are committed to the cause of sustainability and attract audiences who are as well. You might consider teaming with one of these artists to promote your product through a music-driven campaign.

#4: Pick a Genre and Stick with It

Audiences tend to identify strongly with their favorite musical genres, so when you change your brand’s music, your buyers might think of you differently.

A fascinating Australian study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, gave participants a set of song lyrics and asked them what emotions the lyrics elicited. The twist was that the song’s genre was described differently to different participants. Some were told the lyrics were from an opera, while others were told they were from a hip-hop song, heavy metal song, or samba.

The researchers found that participants had varying emotional reactions to the lyrics simply based on this information. When participants thought the lyrics were part of a samba, they evoked happiness. When they thought they were from a hip-hop or metal song, they elicited anger (Susino 2020).

The lesson for marketers is that even a consistent message can be perceived as inconsistent if the musical accompaniment changes.

#5: Choose Music That Inspires Positive Emotions

Once you’ve landed on a musical style that aligns with your brand’s essence and your customers’ preferences, you can focus on the individual song, soundtrack, or arrangement.

While the specific emotions you wish to inspire may vary from project to project, your best bet for instilling trust is to choose music that evokes positive emotions, because music that creates joy also builds trust.

#6: Match Tempo to Desired Actions

To gain buyer trust, you must align music not only with your brand, but also with your desired customer experience.

If you have a fast-casual restaurant, for example, music with a fast tempo is the best match for the experience because it leads to faster table turnover, so patrons don’t have to wait as long to be seated. Chill music, by contrast, works better for supermarkets, because it encourages visitors to relax and explore the entire store.

#7: Let Music Drive the Action

Marketing works best when all the elements of your branding are tightly coordinated. While music is a valuable tool on its own, it is even more impactful when it helps tell your company or product’s story.

Research has shown that music in television commercials, for example, becomes more memorable when it drives the ad’s narrative—through tempo, lyrics, or other means.

#8: Choose a Recognizable Song to Increase Authority

Using a hit song in your marketing can carry a hefty price tag, but it can be worth it because of the value it delivers.

One of the key benefits of choosing recognizable music is authority; your buyers will trust you more simply by virtue of your association with a popular song by a famous artist. It is comparable to an influencer endorsement in the goodwill it generates.

#9: Evoke and Inspire Memories

Studies have consistently shown that music has a powerful link with our memory; it’s why singing helps us learn a foreign language faster, for example.

One reason why choosing a recognizable song has real value in marketing is that it can take us back in time. It’s why you crank up the volume when you come across a hit song from when you were a teenager; for a moment, you feel like that teen again. Brands can capture and associate themselves with these feelings, building a bond of affection and trust with buyers.

The moment you add music to your organization’s marketing mix, it becomes part of your brand. Make sure your musical choices inspire customer trust.

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Strategy #3: Full-Funnel Content

So far, we’ve discussed two important user-experience strategies, trust-centered website design and owned media. Now let’s take a look at the third: full-funnel content strategy.

While an owned-media strategy assesses, prioritizes, and executes the best company-managed vehicles to promote trust, a full-funnel content strategy zeroes in on a single key aspect of owned media: your content as it relates to the buyer’s journey through the marketing funnel.

Many books and articles on inbound marketing focus almost exclusively on the content that brands create themselves—as if this content lived in a vacuum. The marketing funnel, as imagined in this scenario, might work like this:

  1. The buyer conducts a Google search and finds an article on your blog that addresses a problem they are seeking a solution for.
  2. The buyer likes the blog article, so they subscribe to your email list.
  3. The buyer receives an email featuring a video demo of your product or service and watches it.
  4. The buyer is retargeted with an ad offering a 20-percent discount code for purchases made that day.
  5. The buyer clicks through the ad to a landing page where they sign up and pay for your product or service.

I’m sure you’ve seen stages in the purchase funnel presented this way before. But had you ever noticed before that these were all examples of owned media?

That’s not how buying really works. We’ve learned in this book that consumers trust what other people say about you more than what you say about yourself.

A more common funnel experience in 2022 would be this:

  1. The buyer conducts a Google search and finds a helpful article by you, but it’s in an industry trade publication, not your own blog.
  2. When the buyer has an interest in the product or service you offer, they go to an industry review site and begin comparing their options. The buyer sees your brand name and recognizes it from the article you wrote, so they include you in their consideration set.
  3. Because you have the best reviews among your competitors, the buyer looks for other information about you. They find media coverage highlighting your company’s growth
  4. The buyer finally decides to go to your website and purchase your product or service—visiting your owned media for the first time in the buying process.

Some inbound marketing firms only offer full-funnel content marketing, combined with a heavy dose of advertising, in their campaigns. It’s important to understand that without integrating third-party validation from trusted sources, this insular approach is doomed to failure.

Specific Messages for Each Stage of the Buyer’s Journey

That doesn’t mean that a full-funnel content strategy isn’t important. To borrow a supply-chain term, it supports the “last mile” to the sale—the last leg of the journey from awareness to trust to purchase.

While 95 percent of your buyers are future buyers—those not looking for your product or service at the moment—the other 5 percent are now buyers. Full-funnel content marketing is directed at now buyers, arguably your most important single audience.

As now buyers are drawn into your funnel, your owned media can finally begin to focus on selling your product.

The success of a full-funnel strategy hinges on relevance. Customers require unique messaging and creative forms of content at every stage of the funnel, so it’s important for you to fine-tune your communications based on your knowledge of your buyer. This is where buyer persona research can prove invaluable.

Worry Less about Frequency, More about Relevance

Many marketers tend to obsess over tactics rather than strategies when developing and implementing their inbound marketing pro- grams. That’s often because they don’t have a strategy that has been substantiated by buyer research.

Take the issue of communications frequency, for example. Too many marketers worry endlessly about questions like these:

  • How often should I send out the newsletter?
  • How far apart should my campaign emails be?
  • When should I post on social media?
  • How aggressively should I retarget my website visitors with ads?

But frequency isn’t what matters to buyers; relevance is.

If you deliver relevant messages to your audience—messages that show you know what they’re interested in, as well as where they are in the buying process—your buyers will tolerate a high frequency of communication.
If you don’t, even one message may be one too many.

Today, we live in a world where consumers have grown to expect personalized offers, recommendations, and experiences when they interact with your brand. They expect you to get them.

If you can’t provide your buyers with that feeling, they ultimately will lose trust in you—and you will lose the sale in the process.

As we discussed in Chapter 8 in examining the causes of ecommerce cart abandonment, a customer can drop out of the sales process at any time—even the last minute. The key is to continue to build trust with the buyer at every stage of the journey.

The Power of Personalization

One of the best ways to show relevance is personalization

Personalization, at its essence, is simply taking what you already have learned about your buyer to create a better experience for them. Done well, that builds trust.

Personalization is a trust signal not only because it makes your buyer’s shopping experience easier; it creates an emotional connection as well. Being treated as an individual, and not just a potential purchase, resonates with buyers.

According to a 2020 Deloitte study, 80 percent of buyers prefer brands that offer a personalized experience (“Connecting with Meaning”). And a majority of marketers report that personalization increases open rates and click-through rates for emails, as well as time on site and conversions for website visitors.

Simple strategies that go a long way include the following:

  • Adding a welcome message for return website visitors 
  • Changing your website calls to action based on where your visitors are in the buying cycle
  • Collecting information from email or website surveys that are then used to tailor communications 
  • Personalizing your emails and having them come from a real person rather than 
  • Changing your website and email content dynamically based on the buyer’s demonstrated interests
  • Sending birthday or anniversary emails, along with a special offer, to spur additional purchases by existing customers

If you can create a full-funnel strategy that communicates a real understanding of your audience, you will satisfy a deep craving for your buyers—and they will reward you for it.

When Does Personal Become Too Personal?

Of course, we’ve all heard stories of personalized experiences that go too far or are otherwise cringe-worthy:

  • A man chatting online about a family member with a serious illness, who starts seeing ads for funeral homes
  • A teenage girl who is served ads for baby clothes before she’s even told her parents she’s pregnant
  • A website suggesting that a food order doesn’t fit a visitor’s diet or that a purchase is not within their budget

When you collect visitor information, it’s critical that you handle it with care. If you use it in a tone-deaf or invasive way, you will scare o customers. While consumers tend to push privacy questions to the backs of their minds, when confronted with them directly, 86 percent say they worry about how brands collect and use their data, according to a 2021 KPMG survey (Whitney 2021).

One of the best ways for marketers to make personalization less unsettling for consumers is to be transparent about it. Explain why you are collecting their information and why they are seeing a specific ad or having a specific experience with your content.

Ultimately, the advice here is simple, if easier said than done:

Provide the most relevant, personalized buyer experience possible. But don’t be creepy about it.

It’s a brand lesson even titans of business like Je Bezos are struggling with today.

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