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Are you investing in or spending your email subscribers’ trust?


In a recent episode of Delivering, we discussed the idea of building trust in email marketing. While the podcast looked at the mechanics of building trust through using authentication protocols like BIMI and providing value to your subscribers, it also touched briefly on a concept pulled from the very first Litmus conference: trust banks.

Back in 2013, Brendan Schwartz—one of the founders of video hosting company Wistia—talked about the idea of a trust bank. Sitting in the audience that day, it struck me as a wonderful framework for understanding what we work on—from product development to marketing, customer service, and more. But I didn’t think it was a concept I’d be revisiting nearly 8 years later, let alone one that’s essential for marketers to understand amidst a global pandemic, social injustice, and one of the most challenging landscapes we’ve collectively encountered.

What is a trust bank?

The idea of a trust bank is simple: Every brand has a figurative bank in which people can deposit (or withdraw) their trust.

When your brand does something good on behalf of subscribers, customers, or the world, then your trust bank starts to fill up. But, when you screw up—like send a broken email—your trust balance is depleted as a result.

Trust banks can be a useful framework for considering decisions and responses to events. Should you send an email with a misleading subject line? Participate in some performative allyship? Take the time to understand your customers and what they really need from you? The trust bank concept can help you answer those questions.

Trust is the backbone of successful marketing

While marketing is, according to Merriam Webster, “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service,” the underlying foundation of successful marketing is trust.

Potential customers are bombarded with marketing messages all day, every day. So much so that, a lot of times, your hard work and carefully crafted campaigns are completely ignored. So, what sets one marketing message apart from another?


More specifically, how much a potential or existing customer trusts the brand sending the message and whether or not they can believe what the message is saying. Do your claims sound reasonable? Do customers believe they’ll get real value out of your product or service? Have they heard from friends, family, or the internet about your company?

The answers to all of those questions (and more) will determine how much they trust what you’re telling them and, in the long run, whether or not they’ll do business with you.

In email marketing, a lot of things can increase your trust balance, like:

Likewise, there are ample opportunities for depleting your subscribers’ trust:

  • Sending campaigns with broken images and links
  • Creating all-image emails without alternative text
  • Using offensive or biased copy and images
  • Buying or renting email lists
  • Sending too many campaigns without any real value
  • Not allowing subscribers to opt down or opt out

But, by understanding how those decisions affect your trust bank, you can make better decisions for your brand and your subscribers.

We’ve never needed trust more

Along with the influx in marketing and general information overload, people are facing huge challenges—a lot of which boil down to questions of trust.

Important vaccination efforts are being undermined by people’s lack of trust in the vaccinations themselves. Tech companies propagate misleading information and dismantle the trust in the journalistic process that’s been built up over decades. The United States Congress was attacked because irresponsible leaders told lies that led people to believe they couldn’t trust the legitimate outcome of an election.

All of these are massive problems but illustrate the need for trust between one another on a personal and commercial level.

Compared to the examples above, sending an email with a broken link or a bad experience on mobile seems insignificant. But if too many of those mistakes get through to subscribers, they start adding up and, in turn, subtracting from your trust bank. And that lack of consumer trust has real consequences for businesses and the people that run them.

That’s why it’s so important to test every campaign, talk to your subscribers and customers on a regular basis, and ask yourself serious questions about every marketing effort you produce. And framing those questions and conversations in the concept of the trust bank can help ensure that you’re actively building trust with your customers.

It can be a difficult process at times, and a difficult habit to build, but it’s one worth investing in.

The Anatomy of a Broken Email (2nd Edition)

Build trust with emails that work

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Jason Rodriguez

Jason Rodriguez

Jason Rodriguez was the Community & Product Evangelist at Litmus