For Data, The Only Way Is Trust

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In a world of growing complexity and digital upheaval, brands must focus more than ever on building trust. Hailed as the biggest reason someone would buy your brand or recommend you to others, the trust people have in your company is now something that is increasingly linked to a brand’s balance sheet in the form of ‘goodwill’ and has a real impact on the stock price. These are hard 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 and responsive, as well as offering good value for money. It increasingly also includes things like having good intent such as not only proclaiming but living your company’s values.

There are aspects of trust that existed long before the digital age. For example, is your product a good one? 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 the value exchange is fair, then that doesn’t harm trust. Intent too is something that also transcends eras.

The trust problem in the digital age is largely linked to companies’ efforts to find new customers and speak to their existing customers. Companies have always had to do this and it has always made good sense to understand your customer. However, the digital age has changed everything, because everything in the digital age, including trust, is data-dependant.

The digital age has witnessed, perhaps even accelerated, people’s changing attitudes toward who and what we trust. Once trusting the parent, teacher, police officer or religious leader; we now question everything and everyone, looking to new sources for less ‘authoritarian’ and more evidence-driven, egalitarian truth. Scott Galloway, a leading marketing professor from New York University Stern School of Business, suggests a growing majority, although they may not realize it, effectively treat Google as an all-seeing, all-knowing ‘god’ and Facebook as the font of ‘love’, where we validate our existence through the people with whom we choose to connect.

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 and compare prices online for the things we’re interested in or need, buy online to save precious time, store our photos and memories forever for free, stay connected to those we love, and on and on we go. And while people are increasingly aware that we create data, 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 Galloway also asserts, this is leading to what appears to be powerful monopoly positions for companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

Back in everyday life, most brands and organizations don’t enjoy the advantages of the ‘big four’ who offer everyday essential functionality, accessible via mobile devices in our pockets and our palms. Most brands have a less intimate relationship with customers and must work harder to show how data drives value to them and by doing so, earn trust in their brands.

The answer to earning that trust is relatively simple, at least in principle. 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 and always will be good practice to understand your customers. When you know your customer or prospect, you can make your marketing relevant, you can make the buying and ownership experience better, and you can improve all those core aspects of brand trust: authenticity, consistency, reliability, respectfulness, and 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 freely enjoy the value data provides us yet fear it and pour scorn on the notion that organizations need data to operate as a business today. Yes, we need to look at too few organizations 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, has connected its technology at the data layer and has focused first on the customer and not on the technology. It’s a business that practices privacy-by-design and uses data to serve not to sell, making every aspect of the brand interaction authentic, consistent, reliable, respectful and responsive. If you do just one thing to build a better business, use data responsibly and ethically to deliver value to people earning their trust. The only way is through trust.

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