How to signal authority

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Doug Kessler

25. 10. 2021 | 2 min read

How to signal authority

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In B2B—as in all business—trust is everything.

And one of the main sources of trust is a sense of someone’s authority: the sense that this person or company has earned the right to talk about this subject; that they’re judgement is based on real experience and expertise; that other people recognize this status.

I can think of three main ways to give someone a sense of your authority.

You can claim authority – Just state it: “We are experts.” And, ideally, support it with some data or third-party endorsements. (Doesn’t mean you’ll be believed).

You can demonstrate authority – By walking the talk: sharing your expertise in content.

You can signal authority – Using things like brand, imagery, design and the semiotics playbook used by governments (presidential seals) and police forces (badges and, like, guns and stuff) and nightclub bouncers (black T-shirts and bloated biceps).

I was thinking about this stuff on my morning walk yesterday (the B2B life is a lonely one) when I came across this hideous sign, copies of which are zip-tied to the chain-link fences at every railway crossing in West London:

Authority and a railside sign: lessons for B2B marketers

I had to wait for the train to pass anyway, so I stopped to count all the authority signals—15 of them packed into one sign:

Authority signals in a Network Rail sign

Overkill? Bit too… heavy-handed?

Probably not if you really want to keep people (mostly stoned teenagers) off the rail tracks. (“I don’t know, Dude, they sound, like, pretty serious about it.”)

Of course, there’s the polar opposite way to achieve the same result—using wit, charm, music and fake blood—but it would involve putting a little video screen at every crossing:

Food for thought: How are you signaling authority to your audiences?
Analyst quadrants? G2 ratings? Visual signals, like Alsatians in yellow triangles? Missed anything?

Have a safe day.

Published in:

  • Authority

  • Credibility in B2B

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