When it comes to marketing, a lot of people swap out their rose-colored glasses for a pair of skepticals. According to a study by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (a group that, clearly, has some skin in the game here), 96% of consumers don’t trust ads. And I can’t say I blame them. All our lives, we’ve been trained to believe that advertisers and marketers have ulterior motives to drive sales. Which, let’s be real, they do. But this all gets a little more complicated when the marketer (let’s say, a nonprofit or social support organization) is promoting a product or service that will objectively benefit its audience. While we could get into a deep, philosophical discussion about the intersection of altruism and advertising and whether true corporate or organizational selflessness can exist in a world where marketing takes place, I will spare you all and instead focus on the task at hand: From a marketer’s perspective, how can we break barriers to convert our skeptics?

It’s important to note that “skeptics” is a nuanced term in this context. Personally, when I hear the word, I immediately think of people who would disagree with me politically or on social issues. While this is true, in marketing, “skeptics” is a much broader umbrella. Skeptics are in every industry, from policymaking to consumer goods. Everyone from those across the aisle to people with questionable bumper stickers to savvy shoppers who are on the fence and *almost* ready to make the move on your product could be considered a skeptic of your brand. For that reason, these cynics certainly aren’t a lost cause, and are critical for your bottom line.

I know: Why don’t we just ignore the skeptics and focus all of our energy on our existing fans? It’s tempting to, as cultural icon Miley Cyrus so deeply stated in 2013, “forget the haters, cuz somebody loves ya.” But this path of least resistance is problematic at best. Not only will your brand’s audience be stifled, but you’ll be continually shouting into an echo chamber, throwing your money into a metaphorical pit, and — depending on your industry — ultimately promoting division and ignorance. It’s not good.

So, how do you actually reach audience members whose beliefs don’t align with your organization’s mission or, more often than not, don’t want to be reached? Here are a few tips to break past these skeptics’ barriers:

1. Keep it simple. Avoid lengthy buzzwords that could alienate audience members from outside your circle. Lower that reading level, spell out that alphabet soup of acronyms, and invite everyone to the conversation.

2. Show them the receipts. The numbers don’t lie. (Well, unless they do. But we’ll save that for another blog post.) Data that is properly collected and analyzed can be a useful tool for showing your skeptics the light and, ultimately, changing their minds. Sprinkle some stats anywhere you’d like to add a flavor of validity to your message: it goes great in anything from blog posts to social media captions. Just make sure your sources are sound.

3. Explain what’s in it for them. As consumers, we’re all selfish whether we know it or not. Personalize the value for the individual prospective customer by selling the benefits, rather than the product itself. You can scream your tagline ceaselessly into that aforementioned echo chamber all you want, but it would be much more effective to directly present exactly what a prospect has to gain from your service. And think big: This is often so much more than financial or time savings, and more about an improved quality of life and well-being.

4. Put yourself in their shoes. Unless you’ve clicked on every single ad you’ve ever seen in your life, you’re in no place to judge someone for rejecting your brand’s marketing. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to get from here to there amid countless “INJURED?” billboards. People will be hard-wired to ignore or reject marketing, especially those whose opinions don’t align with your own. And we can’t change that. What we can do is see the situation from a skeptic’s perspective, and address their hindrances or concerns through our brand’s messaging.


It’s not easy to convert those who doubt your mission, product, or service. It takes hard work, dedicated outreach, careful messaging, and buckets full of strategy. But, while you could probably reach a hundred of your biggest fans in the same time it would take to convert one hater, this is necessary heavy lifting. Don’t give up on the skeptics — they’re often the ones who need to hear your message the most.