Trust channels: how ideas thrive in the era of AI, data overload, and new media.

If you have a new idea or product, you face the challenge of reaching the very customers that should be receptive to you. The hard truth is this: people struggle to identify great ideas, even ones that hold value for them. Instead, they turn to individuals and tribes to validate new information. They trust the person who cuts their hair on mechanical engineering over a mechanical engineer. To problem solvers, it’s confusing until you see the underlying structure underneath. That structure is made up of trust channels.

Every founder, entrepreneur, intrapreneur, CEO, CMO, or creator who successfully amplified their message, tapped into trust channels. Some, without knowing it. Perhaps they ran a PR campaign. Maybe they had connected relatives. Maybe an influential person opened doors. Chances are they don’t even know.

To amplify an inventive person like yourself, there’s a process. I’ll explain what trust channels are, how they work, why it’s immensely valuable, and why amplifying your message to the masses is accessible to you, regardless of your budget or social status.

First, background is helpful here. You need to know you’re extremely biased.

Why inventive people struggle

Many inventive people attempt to amplify their message or build a following from scratch—one person at a time. They assume great ideas speak for themselves and draw people like a subconscious magnet. They believe in The Mousetrap Myth, coined by David Burkus. Those who have been down this road, know the truth: great ideas don’t matter. Communication and earning immediate trust matters.

I work with inventive people often. Some have bootstrapped from nothing. Others have 20M Series A raises from top VCs. Some have half-billion dollar exits. Some are CEOs or CMOs of large companies. All struggle to tell their story and connect it to those who can benefit. It’s tough for them to see the communication breakdown. They suffer from founder baby bias. Their struggle reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is routinely pestered to see a friend’s new baby. He finally relents, horrified at the baby’s ugliness. To the parents however, their baby is beautiful and one-of-a-kind. Even with objectively cute babies, everyone outside the infant’s family and friends sees yet another baby of the thousands they’ve seen in their lifetime.

Ugly or beautiful, your idea is your baby and that makes you biased. That’s ok, it drives you! You know the work that has gone into creating the idea. You know what makes it unique. You’re a believer. That’s to be expected, but the world doesn’t care… yet.

Getting the word out is challenging because there’s more noise, and trust is difficult to earn.

The State of Trust

Media trust is hitting record lows. Viewership for national shows is down significantly. Social media is regarded as a lost cause. Disinformation is everywhere. Videos are deep faked. A full Joe Rogan podcast interview can be easily AI-generated. Soon, political candidates will flood the internet with fake damaging content to hide real damaging content—the process of content obfuscation. Despite facing record loneliness, dating apps are stalling.

People are circling the intellectual wagons by tightening their sources for information. Less-trustworthy channels that are not iron-clad are being abandoned. Local is thriving. National is struggling.

The most direct path for you to get an idea into the minds and hearts of your customer in 2030 and beyond is to use their trust channels. Trust channels are how low-level employees get the CEO’s ear, how startups get press coverage in hot publications, and how potential employees get new jobs.

Trust channels defined.

Trust channels are the people and networks that surround individuals to inform them of their world. Everyone on the planet is surrounded by not one, not two, but hundreds of trust channels. A trust channel could be a podcast, but it could be your bartender too.

The following scenario may help you understand the general idea:

You arrive at a cocktail party and the host of the party immediately embraces you. She tells everyone in the room, “You all have to meet <your name>; they’re the best <occupation> in the industry!” In a few seconds, you gained instant trust and credibility that otherwise may have taken years to build with that same group. In this scenario, the host’s trust immediately transferred to you, the host was a key trust channel to a new audience.

This idea scales.

In its simplest form, this is what trust channels are all about—there are millions of trust channels. By respecting and using them, you gain instant credibility and idea adoption with massive audiences. Without trust channels, your idea dies. With them, your idea thrives.

It really is that simple. Today, trust channels are numerous, which can feel overwhelming, but ideas have always spread like this. Consider the Wright Brothers.

A Short History of Trust Channels

When human flight was achieved, any reasonable person would assume wall-to-wall media coverage would accompany the breakthrough or at least promptly after. Orville and Wilbur Wright should have been doing non-stop interviews. You’d expect endless discussion on the train. But not until three years later did The New York Times write a single word about it. Three years!

Almost the entire world as of 1908, nearly 5 years after the achievement, had no knowledge human flight had been achieved, according to Rita McGrath in her book Seeing Around Corners. Meanwhile in the same time, July 7th in 1907 to be exact, a sermon from Rev. Father Michael G. Esper in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church about teddy bears harming the human race made national news in 24 hours.

Here’s the tragic truth: having the best idea or product in the world doesn’t matter. What matters is how you communicate that idea and what trust channels you utilize. This truth is what drives me.

Examples of trust channels

Trust channels are unlimited and growing daily as our world invents new methods of communication. Some channels have been with us a long time. As of June 2022, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has built a large trust channel of over 3.7 million subscribers. For this reason, PR people have historically relied on media as a trust channel. But times have changed.

Another trust channel that perhaps isn’t top of mind is Marques Brownlee. Better known as MKBHD on YouTube, Brownlee has amassed over 16.8 million subscribers absolutely crushing WSJ and doing so with barely a fraction of the budget. And Brownlee has developed only a small trust channel when compared to Jimmy Donaldson, known by his channel name Mr. Beast. The King of YouTube has 139M subscribers as of writing this.

Trust channels aren’t just limited to online media or news media however. They can be events like SXSW. The event brought together 270,000 people during their 2022 hybrid event.

Podcasts like The Psychology Podcast are significant trust channels. According to data analytics company SEM Rush, 20% of people say they’ve bought something because their favorite host endorsed it.

Surprisingly, radio is an effective trust channel as well. (Shocked?) According to NPR and Edison Research, “Almost half of all AM/FM radio listeners (46%) say they have considered a new company, product, or service after hearing an ad on the radio.” Radio reaches 82% of the population, making it an often overlooked, but significant trust channel. I should know; I had a live show with iHeart Radio for three years. I hosted 6 Presidential Candidates in the studio, and interviewed celebrities like Mike Rowe and Pauly Shore. If I endorsed a product over the air, the impact was significant.

But trust channels aren’t limited to media, magazines, TV, podcasts, and digital streaming. Those are the top-of-mind examples, but other channels can be even more effective depending on whom you want to reach with your story. Here are a few examples:

  • A local VFW Post
  • Bartenders
  • Book clubs
  • Authors
  • Barbers
  • Chiropractors
  • Nutritionists
  • Doctors
  • Your local service organization

When promoting a local podcast project for a friend, the most effective strategy was simply hitting local events as a speaker and maximizing face-to-face interactions. At one event, attended by only 10 people (there was a severe ice storm) they received 200 web hits amounting to a 2000% conversion rate. When compared to the 0.3% – 0.5% conversion rate of digital ads, it was incredibly effective. Face-to-face trust channels are also often overlooked in our digital age.

Trust channels can also be locations, towns, or countries. If you meet someone from your hometown or country while traveling, have you noticed an immediate bond? Oddly, you trust them more than those around you. Geography certainly plays a role in forming trust channels. This is one reason Axios is growing so rapidly across the country.

As larger newspapers continue to suffer subscriber decreases, Axios hit their one-millionth subscriber by focusing on local content. Similarly, savvy brands are abandoning national influencers (or nonfluencers) in favor of local “influencers” with much smaller followings but strong high-trust networks. Social media marketing company, Hummingbirds, just raised $1M to build this very model.

Startup Clayton Farms, a purveyor of pesticide-free greens, utilizes a local in-person trust channel approach as well. You’d think a tech company would focus on digital growth means, but instead, they door-knock new markets when they build a new greenhouse in that region. CEO Clayton Mooney credits these in-person efforts for their rapid growth.

The trick is this: how does an inventive thinker know which trust channel to utilize?

How do you identify trust channels?

When you understand how trust channels work and how many there are, it can be overwhelming. There is no set channel map for each person, but there is a process to find ideal trust channels that reach those you seek to influence.

The person you aim to influence is likely the customer, but it may be your CEO, immediate supervisor, or investors. Perhaps it your own neighborhood association for a new block improvement project.

In one case, a startup hired me to get press for them for the sole purpose of attracting certain investors. The primary channel we chose in this case, was The Wall Street Journal, and we achieved this goal. The startup then sent the article to both interested investors and those who had declined. Because WSJ was a notable trust channel, these investors came back to the table.

As a person with a big idea, determining the proper trust channels starts with identifying your ideal customer, clarifying your message, identifying their influencing forces, and finally trading something of value to the influencing force to earn trust quickly. If it seems like no one does this, you’re correct.

Identify The Customer

Finding trust channels requires an intimate understanding of your customer, and if you’re like most inventive people, you’ve skipped this part. In almost every new client onboarding session, it usually only takes me 1 or 2 hours to discover the entire leadership team isn’t remotely on the same page, and can’t communicate what their customers’ value.

This results in ballooning marketing costs with no insight into what strategies have worked and why others have failed. If you’re in this position, your breakthroughs may feel random. What a waste of valuable time and resources!

For entrepreneurs, founders, CMOs and CEOs, customers are diverse. The same is true of your investors, vendors, or collaborators as well. If you don’t take time to understand the audience for your particular idea, and how it uniquely impacts them, you cannot reach anyone.

Thorough research into your audience and customer is a requirement. Spend as much face-time with your customer as possible. The goal is to understand what drives them.

In his newest book, What A Unicorn Knows, Matthew E. May recounts the story of how Toyota broke into the US Market with their new Lexus Brand. After a failed first attempt to gain traction partnering with GM they refined their process of identifying the customer. Toyota decided to maximize face-to-face exposure with US buyers. May explains this Toyota design thinking practice, knowsn as Genchi Genbutsu, or “go look, go see” in Japanese, was the differentiator.

The team spent months fully immersing themselves into the US luxury lifestyle. They rented nice cars, nice condos, stayed in luxury hotels, spent time in luxury venues, and at the best restaurants. The launch was successful, and Toyota’s Lexus brand quickly became the most popular American luxury brand. They “out-listened” their competitors.

Understanding your audience and their values requires speaking in their voice. If you feel lost and unsure of who your audience and their values, you’re not alone. Most marketers are poor at this too, explains David Allison, the world’s leading expert on values and author of The Death of Demographics. Even marketers struggle with proper audience identification.

Knowing your audience on a deep level is required to understanding the trust channels they utilize for information.

Getting adoption for your ideas through trust channels is relevant for entrepreneurial thinkers in corporate jobs as well. Your “customer” may be your boss or colleague, the VP, or company CEO. Many brilliant ideas die due to the failure to identify the customer or audience values and unique way of thinking.

While working for a manufacturing company in my twenties, I quickly became frustrated with my VP because I thought he was continually shutting down my ideas. Even after a well-received conversation, my ideas would die. I would later learn I had misidentified my audience: the VP was on my side, but the CEO was not. Not until I got him to the table was my idea adopted (and it took a few years.)

Internally, it’s wise to spend time learning how decisions are made in your division or company before seeking to amplify your ideas. It may be wise to ask your boss or VP “Who else do we need to loop in to see if this idea has merit?” or “how are decisions made?”

Focus Your Message

Incredible ideas die when the person with the ideator fails to communicate clearly. Every day brilliant contributions are ignored because the person seeking to amplify their idea didn’t take a moment to consider the audience and messaging they may immediately embrace and relate to.

That starts with developing an iron-clad vision and vision. For my clients, I explain it this way. A vision is the change you want to see in the world, even without you in it. A mission is how you will effectuate that change. Startups and large corporations alike all struggle with this step. It is difficult to truly focus your message on your ideal customer and audience.

But it’s vital.

How to write a vision statement:

A vision statement is the change you want to see in the world without you in it. A vision could be “Mankind will conquer Everest.” Even if you cease to exist tomorrow, that’s still a vision others can achieve. A vision is bigger than you—for it to be effective, you can’t be a part of it.

How to write a mission statement:

A mission statement is how you will deliver the change your vision reveals. This is where you come in. To continue the Everest theme, a mission could be “We will create the best team and plan to reach the summit.”

A well-written vision and mission statement force to accurately identify your audience and ensure all messaging aligns with that audience. It’s magic and create consistent communication with all stakeholders.

When all stakeholders, including leadership, employees, customers, investors, and coworkers understand and communicate your vision and mission, messaging becomes effortless. There are no questions regarding what you stand for and the goals you envision for the company. Vendors communicate your value to other vendors. Employees communicate your value to their network. And best of all, customers can communicate with customers by spreading your message.

Less time is spent and wasted on poor suggestions for new products or new marketing strategies. No time is lost in miscommunication about your product or service. All communication energy is focused on your objective.

You can visually picture this by comparing 260 toothpicks and a single arrow. Both have approximately the same mass, weighing approximately 26 grams. Despite this, the arrow will travel further and sink deeper into a target because the total mass is focused on one specific point. Even if you triple the mass of the toothpicks and find a clever Mythbusters-style way to launch them, they won’t sink into the target. It will be a waste of your time and energy.

A focused message puts the collective mass of company ideas, investments, leadership, and personnel on a single focused point. Practically, there are fewer “checking with the team” conversations and more autonomy. Scale requires team autonomy, and for that to become real, every stakeholder must internalize the vision and mission.

Only at this point can you develop trust channels.

Identify All Trust Channels

Trust channels are the most direct path to amplifying your message to the key group you seek to impact with your idea and message. Depending on your idea and particular goals, your customer’s trust channels are a wide spectrum. But how do you find them?

As previously stated, some trust channels are obvious. The Wall Street Journal or Wired Magazine might be trust channels. But others aren’t so obvious. If you want to reach a particular community, for example, the most direct trust channel may be an association President. Sometimes, the most valuable trust channel may be the town bartender, hairdresser or barber.

Stephen Thomas, Ph.D., professor in UMD’s School of Public Health has certainly considered this: Dr. Thomas has formed a national network of barbershops and local clinics as a critical trust channel for getting health information to the black community. The Health Advocates In-Reach and Research (HAIR) program was developed because research shows partnering with barbershops is an effective way to improve the health of black men.

African American men are less likely to visit a doctor. This means preventable conditions are caught later, making various conditions harder to treat. One of the barbers in this program is Michael Brown. “African American men—we don’t tend to go to the doctor until our arm is all the way off on the floor,” said Brown. “I wanted to help other men be aware that they need regular checkups.”

Dr. Thomas has identified a key trust channel in barbers like Brown.

Consider the powerful trust shared between a barber, hair stylist, chiropractor, or massage therapist and their clientele. According to Dr. Seth Meyers, in a column for Psychology Today, he likens the relationship to that of a therapist. Clearly, Dr. Thomas’ HAIR approach is a critical and yet often overlooked trust channel.

The more time you spend with your customer, or person you want to adopt your idea, the more obvious it will become what trust channels levers you should pull. But you must do the work, and listen to your audience. A conversation with my wife recently revealed my own failure to do just that.

My wife works on all my client projects from a learning and development perspective. Discussing challenges relating to a PR project, she caught my ear, “this product seems like something I should have heard about.” Her response was a gut check—she was inside a trust channel group I missed! After only five minutes asking questions, new trust channels became immediately obvious.

Time spent learning the customer’s language means you have speak with a native tongue. When someone uses the vocabulary you use, and understands your values, it’s impossible to ignore. In my interview with him, David Allison explains understanding audience values allows you to position yourself as neurologically irresistible.

Identifying Trust Channels: Simplified

In the case of an inventive thinker, the fastest way to identify key trust channels is to simply ask customers. Create a list of your most profitable and best customers, then send out a survey, possibly offering incentives like gift cards or unique experiences.

Ask open questions that help your audience think. Here are some starter questions, but I have a constantly evolving Google Sheet you can access for free.

  • What top 5 YouTube channels are your subscribed to right now?
  • What top 5 podcasts are you subscribed to right now?
  • Who are the people you trust most on Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn?
  • Which professional groups do you get value out of?

A tech client of mine did this very exercise for their dev community. We expected to see many tech-focused publications and developer communities in their trust channels. While some expected channels did pop up on the list, we were stunned many in their audience subscribed to The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. We overlooked those initially, but about 7 months later the client ended up in The Wall Street Journal.

Had we not asked our customers, the opportunity would have vanished. Assumptions can be costly.

Visually, it helps to create a spider diagram or mind map with the word “Customer” on a piece of paper, mapping out as many customer trust channels as possible. These trust channels are what you need to utilize to amplify your message and earn instant credibility with that customer.

This process of identifying trust channels is repeatable for any organization of any size. This process is repeatable for someone who wants to influence upper management in an organization, even for a lowly intern with zero influence. Trust channels can be mapped out for CEOs or VPs you seek to influence.

What sources does your CEO use to vet information? Does he or she have a board? Do they read certain publications? In one instance I sticky-noted an article in a magazine the CEO respected, writing, “this article made me think of our company.” A few weeks later, I pitched an experimental project aligning with that article and the CEO quickly accepted the suggestion because a key trust channel had already informed his decision.

Gaining Access To Trust Channels

When you are amplified in a trust channel, the institutional trust built up over decades transfers to you. It’s a quick path to your audience’s heart. You are surrounded by easy trust channel entry points at this very moment but how do you gain access?

You provide value to the influencing force of the channel.

Once you locate critical trust channels to get your message out, some may be simple to utilize. The President of your neighborhood association may require only a phone call to advise her about a new street beautification process. If you are simply aware of the channel, it’s a straightforward ask.

Some channels are a bit more difficult to wrangle though.

Journalists, editors of respected publications, YouTubers, or even bartenders may not trust you immediately. It goes without saying it’s best to have common connections (also trust channels) introduce you or build that relationship over time. If your idea is on a timeline, however, utilizing a trust channel starts by providing something of value.

The process of exchanging immediate value for trust dates back thousands of years. In 900-1650 A.D., for example, the Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians would exchange gifts as an immediate show of trust. Failure to provide value meant death for the outsider. Today, you don’t risk death, but your greatest idea will most certainly die.

Giving value is a fast way to gain trust within trust channels.

If your required trust channel is a newspaper, the influencing force of that channel would be a reporter or editor. Trading value is bringing them a great story their readers will click. Journalists are judged by how many readers engage with their work. If someone brings them a story that accomplishes this goal, trust is instantly earned and follow-up stories become easier. The journalist drove engagement, and the business owner gained exposure.

I’ve sent journalists great stories that didn’t involve my clients for the sole purpose of building trust.

In the case of HAIR, the value exchange was altruistic. Because barbers have relationships with their clientele similar to that of a therapist, they naturally want to see them healthy. Dr. Thomas traded value in the form of information to barbers. In exchange, his objective of reaching black men with critical health information was achieved.

Value is determined by the influencing force. Not you. If there’s no value exchange to be had, the trust channel remains closed in the same way a door is slammed in the face of political opposition or a religious group you may have had a bad experience with.

Podcasts are a rapidly growing trust channel. When a host spends a lot of time in a consumer’s ear, a strong trust bond is created. How would one trade value with such an influencing force as a podcaster?

As an active podcaster for eight years and live radio host for three, the pressure to continually find new show ideas never ends. When a host experiences the triumph of completing a new show, the pressure of finding next week’s show content begins. If you can bring a host a unique idea and a guest who can communicate, your idea will likely gain exposure. I use the FART method as my method of choice to pitch great ideas.

Value may be in the form of solving a problem for an influencing force.

This is the exact strategy I used to create a relationship, and critical trust channel, with Paul Allen. Allen founded, and I had the opportunity to meet and interview him on my show and through that experience, knew of his desire to grow his new brand.

I reached out and offered to create a podcast for his company. Because he was in startup mode, I offered to do it for equity. He was excited and agreed. The result was a podcast series called The AI To Uplift Humanity Podcast and a working relationship with him and his brilliant team.

As a result of that decision, he became not only a trusted friend, but a key trust channel that led me to a new opportunity as the anchor for the Global Peter Drucker Forum, hosted annually in Vienna—one of the most respected management and leadership conference in the world.


If you have a great idea as an employee, founder, author, CMO, CEO, or even neighborhood advocate, I have some great news: your ideas can be amplified, and you have control over the process. Identify the “customer” you seek to influence, solidify your message, identify their trust channels, and trade value with the influencing forces of that channel.

Today there are dozens, if not, thousands of better ideas. But ideas don’t make you special; action does. In the age of AI, misinformation, content obfuscation, shrinking trust, and new media, the ability to communicate your idea and bring value to your audience is what matters most. And you can do that starting today.

headshot of Justin Brady

Hi, I’m Justin Brady. I amplify inventive companies (and their people) to new audiences by identifying and utilizing their customer’s trust channels. I wrote for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and I hosted the founders of Starbucks, Hint and on my podcast.
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