"Trust Agents" Case Study - 10 Ways to Differentiate With Valuable Information


I recently finished reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. It is an excellent book on the power of social media as a means for building trust and credibility.

Consider this quote:
Imagine being told by your government (through regulations and law) that you must sell exactly the same product as everyone else in his industry. You may not vary; you must disseminate the same information. You are held to the same pricing and cost structures. Everything must be the same. Now imagine that you're a marketer and are told to make your product stand out. That's what Christopher S. Penn has been doing for years at the Student Loan Network.

Penn has made his own game by delivering nonstop value with his show, The Financial Aid Podcast. People came to trust Penn, and by "people," we mean parents (who had the money), guidance teachers at schools (who told the parents where to spend), and the students themselves (who told the parents what they learned). Whereas everyone else tried to market to their prospects, Penn delivered a nonstop flood of value by showing them how to find scholarships and offering other information to help families do more with what they had. He became a trusted resource. He showed people how to save money, how to find deals, where to get the best information; and he provided extras, like music, live concerts and other things students would be happy to put in their iPods along with his show. All this helped him reach more people.


Notice how Penn approached his market. He focused on his target audiences, and what they wanted. He did not focus on what he wanted to sell to them.

In an industry that is heavily regulated and permits no way to differentiate the product, Penn set his company apart from the competition by delivering content. The content solved problems and gave information that helped students attend the colleges of their choice.

Here are some of the key factors to the Financial Aid Network's success:
  1. Penn focused on his audiences, not on the product he wanted to sell.
  2. He distinguished his three audiences (students, parents and guidance counselors) and delivered content specific to each one's needs.
  3. He offered information outside of the products he sold. His company does not make money when students receive scholarships or grants, but he gives them helpful information about them anyway.
  4. He gave information that made buying and using his products easier. He helped take away much of the confusion related to filling out loan applications.
  5. He positioned himself and his company as experts in the field of helping students pay for college educations.
  6. He willingly gave out free information, knowing some would take the information and go elsewhere, and others would use it to become customers.
  7. He distinguished his company by adding value and going the extra mile. He built "social capital" by creating trust before trying to sell.
  8. He made his podcasts fun. Not only did he use a teen-friendly medium, he also added content like music that made the more serious information consumable.
  9. He made their service "buzz worthy," which attracted news media and gave them massive free publicity. As a result Penn was frequently sought out for expert interviews on a whole range of topics related to college financing.
  10. Because he used the medium of podcasts, his information was mobile. This meant listeners could tune in while in their cars or on their skateboards. It also meant that it could be emailed from counselors to parents or others.


The real lesson here is that free information and educating customers gives a company a huge competitive advantage. Even heavily-regulated industries can focus on what information their target buyers want and need, regardless of whether that information is about specific products.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown
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2 comments:

March 18, 2010 at 6:59 AM Charles Brown said...

Thanks Claudia, I'm glad you liked it.