Read Time: 9 min

Delivering Episode 36: Building trust through email

In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez talks through the many ways email marketers can build trust with subscribers and why trust is the foundation of any good relationship in marketing.

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about the email industry from strategy to design, code to leadership, and everything in between. I’m your host, Jason Rodriguez.

As always, Delivering is brought to you live by Litmus, the premier platform used by marketing professionals around the world to send email with confidence every single time.

Head over to to start a free seven day trial and see how Litmus can help you build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster. And be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post on the Litmus blog about setting up Brand Indicators for Message Identification—or BIMI for short—for email marketers. We also updated and republished an older post on BIMI that went into what BIMI is and why email marketers should care about implementing BIMI for their own campaigns.

If you’re not familiar with BIMI, it’s a new protocol that does exactly what its name implies. It uses brand indicators—in this case your company’s logo—to provide identification for your email messages. Essentially, you can set up a BIMI record on your domain that tells email clients that you are, in fact, who you say you are and, in return, they’ll pull in your brand’s logo to display to subscribers so that subscribers know they can trust your email—that it’s not another phishing attempt trying to steal their information.

Right now, BIMI has limited support—with just Gmail and the Verizon Media email clients like AOL and Yahoo! Mail—having BIMI enabled as part of a pilot program. A few other email clients have announced that they intend to support BIMI in the future but have yet to take the plunge. Far more email clients haven’t said anything at all about this new protocol.

BIMI is interesting on its own, but I think it speaks to a larger challenge in marketing—email and otherwise.

And that challenge is: How do we build trust with our people?

One of my favorite concepts in marketing is one I first heard from Brendan Schwartz, one of the founders of the video platform Wistia. Back in 2013, Brendan spoke at Litmus’ very first conference, The Email Design Conference, about trust banks.

The idea is that every brand has a trust bank, and you’re constantly depositing and withdrawing trust from that bank. Every time you do something good for your customers or your community, you’re depositing trust into your trust bank. When you screw up or take advantage of people, you’re making a withdrawal and your overall trust savings are diminished.

Offering good products and services, being a good corporate citizen, giving back to your community, and working to make the world a better, more equitable place will go a long way towards filling up your trust bank.

Swamping your audience in emails that are clear money grabs, making offensive comments, donating to problematic and harmful political campaigns, or even just simply sending too many broken emails or bad links in campaigns can erode the trust your audience has in your company.

While it’s different for every company, there’s a threshold of trust below which you don’t want to dip. Once your trust savings are too low, your customers will start to desert your brand and move to your competitors. And, quite frankly, it’s hard for any business to come back from a depleted trust bank.

I think the idea of the trust bank is one of the most important in marketing and good marketers, whether they call it a trust bank or something else, are constantly thinking about how to grow trust with their customers. They’re vigilant shepherds of their brand’s trust.

That gets us back to BIMI and the question of trust in email marketing. How can email marketers build trust with their subscribers? What are the mechanisms at play?

And I think I’ve got it boiled down to two (maybe obvious to some but worth reiterating) methods for building trust via email.

The first is the infrastructure of trust.

The infrastructure of trust is all of the stuff that needs to be properly set up so that customers can trust that a) you are who you say you are and b) they can successfully interact with you.

BIMI—and other authentication protocols like DMARC, DKIM, and SPF—are one part of the equation. They are protocols that tell email clients—and the people using them—that you are to be trusted from a technical standpoint. They affect your deliverability and, in the case of BIMI, display information to your subscribers so that they know it’s you speaking to them. That can be the logo pulled in by BIMI, your sender name, or the disclaimer or legal information you put into your emails. They all indicate that you can be trusted and, without them, your emails likely won’t even get delivered, let alone opened and read.

Beyond authentication protocols and sender names, though, part of the infrastructure of trust is how you code your emails, too. Making sure your emails render well across clients, are mobile friendly, and—perhaps most importantly—are as accessible as possible, all go towards building up trust with your subscribers. Even if people open your campaigns, if they can’t interact with them reliably, then your trust savings will start to go down.

Think about a sender that’s constantly sending emails with broken links or missing images, followed up by an apology email every time. How long before your trust in them is completely shot and you simply unsubscribe—or worse, mark their messages as spam?

The infrastructure of trust should be table stakes for everyone in email at this point. You should be using DMARC, DKIM, and SPF—and maybe even BIMI since it’s so easy to set up—and building responsive, accessible campaigns with valid links at this point.

All of that stuff is fairly well-documented and, while it may take some time and learning some new skills, should be feasible for anyone to implement.

The harder part of building trust is the second method, which is by providing real value to your subscribers.

Once you have the infrastructure in place, you need to use that infrastructure to send content that’s actually valuable to your subscribers. That can take almost an infinite number of forms depending on your audience, industry, and business needs, but it almost certainly boils down to the fact that you need to do more giving than taking in the relationship.

You need to give more value than you take from subscribers.

That can happen through your actual products and services. You might have an awesome product that’s reasonably priced. People will get a ton of value and are happy to part with their money to do so. In that case, the product is so good that your campaigns can be fairly transactional and run-of-the-mill and they’ll still get that value and trust you as a sender and brand. But most brands can’t really do that on the virtue of their products alone. Even major brands like Nike or Apple—as good as their products are—know that the products are only part of the experience, and use their emails and other marketing tools to provide value and experiences outside of just their core products.

So most brands need to think about how to provide value through email marketing beyond just the everyday transactional stuff like coupons and limited time offers.

That’s where storytelling and providing resources for your community come into play. The most successful companies tend to be the ones that can tell a good story—about their business and their customers—and go out of their way to provide additional value through resources for their customers. Those resources could be a free online community of customers, better customer support than their competition, fun, engaging content in their campaigns or across social platforms, donations and support for causes that they and their customers care about, or even the good sense to know when to email and when to leave their customers alone.

Regardless of the method, though, they understand that they need to give more to their audience than their taking in order to fill their trust bank.

It’s hard work, but it’s hard work worth doing.

I think a lot of times, we email marketers focus too much on the infrastructure of trust over the true value we provide subscribers. It’s easier to figure out how to implement something like BIMI or the latest tricks for getting your emails working well in Dark Mode. While that’s work absolutely worth doing, we can’t ignore both sides of the trust equation.

So that’s what I’m going to leave you with today: a plea to revisit your own trust bank and put in the work to understand both the infrastructure and what’s built on top of it in your own email marketing program.

If you do, I can promise you that you’ll get customers that trust you more than they already do out of the deal. And I think that’s something worth working towards.

That does it for this week’s episode of Delivering.

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