Building Trust in a Digital Age

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In a world of growing complexity, trust is emerging as the silver bullet to all our needs. Hailed as the biggest reason someone would buy your brand, recommend you to others or share their data with you, being told to ‘build trust’ seems like a cruelly elusive solution to the challenges businesses face, and it doesn’t end there. The trust someone has in your brand is increasingly linked to the balance sheet in the form of goodwill and to how many multiples a brand enjoys in terms of its stock price; these are hard, not soft realities. So how do you build brand trust in the digital age?

There are many definitions of brand trust, but most include values such as being: Authentic; Consistent, Reliable, Respectful, Responsive, as well as offering good value for money and having good Intent, in terms of living values like positive attitudes to diversity and inclusion. There are aspects of trust that operate irrespective of the digital age. I don’t believe brands go out to create bad products and services. They may choose to serve a budget niche in the market, resulting in products of modest quality but if there’s a market for that budget product, then that’s about value for money, they go out to meet the brief, not to fail. And, in terms of intent, this is something that also transcends ages.

The problem arises when you try to do everything else, when you try to find new customers, speak to existing customers, to serve them and listen to them. Here, everything has changed, and everything, including trust, is data-dependant.

People’s attitudes to authority and to who and what they trust have changed fundamentally. Once we trusted the parent, teacher, police officer or religious leader, we now question everything and everyone, looking to new sources for less authoritarian and arguably more evidence-driven, egalitarian truth. As leading marketing professor Scott Galloway suggests, it seems for a growing majority, they may not realise it, but they’re seeing Google as the all-seeing, all-knowing ‘god’  and Facebook as the font of ‘love’, where we validate our existence through the people we connect with or, perhaps, more importantly, choose to connect and interact with us.

It’s an intriguing trust-based concept, but one that also highlights a paradox. The reality is, most people will rush to enjoy the benefits of the digital age. Most of us will happily use free email accounts, search for the things we’re interested in or need, buy online, get it delivered saving us that precious commodity of time, store our photos and memories forever for free, stay connected to those we love, express ourselves, compare the best prices and on and on we go. Yes, we create data as we go but too rarely, do we talk about the data we rely on to make all this work. You see, we want it all, we want all the benefits for free, we don’t want to give them up, but our ears prick up as soon as we’re reminded that our data is part of the equation; which brings us back to trust. If the benefits are big enough, we’ll take a leap of trust and share our data, even though, as Scott Galloway also asserts, this is leading to what appears to be powerful monopoly positions companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

Back in everyday life, most brands and organisations don’t enjoy every day in our palm, advantages and essential functionality of the big four, and need to earn trust in their brands and in the use of data on a constant basis; the answer to earning that trust is relatively simple, in principle.

Again, assuming the product or service is good and assuming the company has good values and intent, almost every other aspect of that brand’s interaction with prospects and customers is data-dependant. It has always been, is now, and always will be, good practice to understand your customer. When you know your customer or prospect, you can make your marketing relevant, you can make the buying and ownership experience better, you can improve all those core aspects of brand trust: Authenticity, Consistency, Reliability, Respectfulness, Responsiveness. How can you achieve those values today, at scale, without data? You cannot.

For some, data really is a four-letter word, loaded and barbed. People hoover up the value data provides us yet fear it and pour scorn on the notion organisations need data to operate as a business today. Yes, we need to look at too few organisations having too much power through data, but for most businesses, the ability to use data to know and serve customers through data will come down to the ability to safely and securely unify data.

The glamorous side is a business with a brand envied for the trust and stock price it enjoys. The more prosaic side is a business that has unified its data, a brand that has connected its technology at the data-layer, focused first on the customer and not the technology. It’s a business that lives privacy by design, a business that uses data to serve not to sell, to make every aspect of the brand interaction authentic, consistent, reliable, respectful and responsive. If you do just one thing to build a better business, bring data together to build data trust that leads to brand trust. The only way is trust.

Jed Mole
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