Not all confidence is created equal

I am not a religious person, but the line “In the beginning was the word…” from John Chapter 1 of the Bible has always had a special resonance for me; ever since standing behind a lectern taller than I was aged 11 to deliver the first reading at a school carol service.

Choosing our words with care was and is critical.

Even in today’s digitally driven, image-obsessed era, it’s still the words we listen to and the headlines we read that shape our beliefs and choices. They build our confidence. Words make things happen. And the use of words has never been more important.

From a marketing perspective one of the key roles of marcoms professionals is to deploy words to generate confidence in a product, technology, organisation, service or person. Building confidence is what we do. And, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, confidence means: “certainty of a proposition or assertion, sureness with regard to a fact”.

To repeat: sureness with regard to a fact. Therefore, whenever we attempt to build confidence within others, we take on a great responsibility. Incumbent on us is the foundation of facts – for confidence to be legitimate – and the facts must be, well, factual. This is a maxim: confidence in any product is underpinned by the veracity of the facts that back it up, so we must choose our facts wisely. There are always alternatives.

Without this connection to a rational and measured reality, the building of confidence plays a darker, more sinister role. This is the ‘con’ in confidence: the confidence trick. This is the confidence built by the timeshare salesman – all promise and no delivery. It’s no surprise then that this is where the term ‘con’ has its roots.

Con (adj.) “swindling”, 1889 (in con man), American English, from confidence man (1849), from the many scams in which the victim is induced to hand over money [or other property such as loyalty or belief] as a token of confidence. Confidence with a sense of “assurance based on insufficient grounds”.

While great marketing generates a sense of assurance based on ‘sufficient grounds’ a great confidence trick is only a hair’s breadth away, generating ‘a sense of assurance based on in-sufficient grounds’.

These days we are all mobbed by words – beamed at us from multiple angles via a myriad of channels. In an age of hyperreality, facts and reality itself are difficult to discern. The message itself has become our reality. Every area of life confronts us with competing assurances demanding our attention and cajoling us, building our confidence to act – enticing us to make decisions one way or another.

The moral of this etymological tale? The responsibility rests squarely on us all to assess marketing’s facts as deeply and rationally as possible – whether we’re building confidence within others or building up our own confidence.

As both message makers and message receivers it’s our obligation to guarantee that the resulting confidence is based on as much fact as we can gather, and that those facts represent reality and have a substance to them way beyond any attention-grabbing headlines. Our confidence must run deep.

From experience I’d suggest that building confidence better than the other guy is a competitive advantage. But I also propose that not all confidence is created equal. Not to put too fine a point on it but when the resultant confidence has little connection to facts and reality then evil creeps in.

We all need to work hard to be sure we can discriminate good confidence from bad. As the saying goes “if it is too good to be true – it probably is…”

– Andy Graham

If you’d like to explore these ideas further or you’d just like to reach out, you can always get in touch with our team by emailing

Many thanks to Online Etymology Dictionary – a great resource for all lovers of words