September Power Lunch Recap: Wars for Attention and the Rise of the Trust Agent


trust_agent_cover3In the war to win your customers’ attention, you are not competing against other marketers; you are competing with your customers’ friends’ Facebook walls. On September 17, 2009, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, co-authors of Trust Agents, talked to us about how to win attention in a world of information overload.

It’s all about building trust with people so that they will listen when you have something to say. Brogan and Smith provided helpful tips from their own experience for breaking through the white noise of everyday life and getting attention.

1. Make a Habit out of Breaking Habits.

When you interrupt the patterns that govern people’s lives by saying and doing the unexpected in a manner that is helpful or insightful to others, you wake them up, you jolt them out of their mental auto-pilot mode, and you become visible.

With social media, you have the opportunity to become visible through many channels and to be seen as a whole person rather than a flat corporate entity. Brogan and Smith encourage companies to put a face to their marketing. Also, when you have a habit of breaking habits, you become more creative and more open to new ideas, which in turn fuels your ability to develop new angles and opportunities for yourself.

2. Stand Out, Start Something.

If you’re competing against others, you’ve already lost, say Brogan and Smith. Citing Cirque du Soleil and the iPhone as examples of game changers in their respective industries, they noted the importance of carving out more profitable spaces in which your company can operate.

For instance, PodCamp, a Barcamp-style “unconference” for new media enthusiasts and professionals co-founded by Brogan and Christopher Penn in 2006, was a way of standing out and starting something. By creating a community around a shared passion, they created the Next Big Thing without quite realizing it. That flood of attention and enthusiasm benefited them even as it created momentum for everyone involved.

“The only difference between a community and an audience is which way you point the chairs.”
—Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan on the evolution of PodCamp (interview with Adele McAlear)

(Toward the end of the presentation, an audience member amended this advice as “listen and then start something.” Don’t forget to check out what’s already going on and start participating before starting something new. Perhaps your Next Big Thing has already begun and is waiting for you to join.)

3. Build Your Network Ahead of Need.

Just as the worst time to find a job is right after you’ve lost one, the worst time to find a customer is right when you need one. If you have built relationships with people before you need the sale, it’s that much easier to get them to be receptive to your offer.

4. Create a Culture of Giving.

Chris Brogan describes his call-to-action as “Come back—I’ll give you more.” He says that by creating a culture in which he makes a habit of doing things to help people, he’s “training people to be nice” to him. Indeed, by setting the example of giving value to people without asking for something in return, you train others to pay it forward in a similar fashion. It’s no wonder that eventually you would become the beneficiary of that goodwill. As with collaborative efforts like PodCamp, generosity and inclusion build conversation and engagement, which is a recipe for trust and attention.

And speaking of recipes…

5. Give your customers recipes in which you are the ingredient.

You won’t find a can of cream of mushroom soup that doesn’t have a recipe on the label that requires cream of mushroom soup. Likewise, you should frame yourself as a necessary ingredient in your customers’ success. I found this piece of advice to be one of the most concrete of the presentation, and one that many of us could run with, when we decide how it applies to us.

What would a recipe for your business look like? If you sell widgets, could you suggest projects on your Web site that use that widget? If you sell expertise, could you create an event around that area of knowledge? AMA members, write in with your ideas and get some collaboration going!

Amy Gelfand (Gelfand Design) is an independent Web designer and communications professional. Amy specializes in designing standards-compliant Web sites and spoiling her clients rotten. Contact her at