Trust in the Digital Age

Why trust is so important now.

The digital age has brought a lot of good, but it has also brought cyber crimes, the dark web, identity theft, privacy invasion, reputation damage and other growing harmful activities.

What this means to marketers is that trust should be embraced as a key brand tenet, and guarded and nurtured as a brand equity component.

Before the digital age, trust was a focus of the product promise. Did I receive what I purchased? Did it perform the way I expected? This has been a focus of the Better Business Bureau (BBB), who says they are "instilling consumer confidence and advancing a trustworthy marketplace for all." But now trust expectations have expanded and customers are asking:
  • You will honor my privacy?
  • You won't take my digital footprint/click-stream data and use negatively?
  • You will protect my personal data including contact, health and government?
  • You will protect my financial data from cyber criminals?

These are performance expectations for the brand. Prospects thinking about doing business with your brand are incorporating the "trust" brand performance image into their decision making process. In addition to these performance expectations, prospects and customers are incorporating channel experience into their trust impression, i.e. does their experience with the brands channel(s) give off the impression of trustworthiness or does the channel experience make a user feel uncomfortable? Does the brand clearly articulate their position on protecting users of their sites and applications? What foundational privacy frameworks including the Fair Information Practice Principles, OECD Privacy Guidelines, APEC Privacy Framework, and the EU-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Principles, are being used?

Brands should be nervous about perception of their trustworthiness and the impact it could have on brand equity. Maybe there should be a subset of Net Promoter Score called Net Trustworthiness Score to keep track. I believe brands who who embrace the seriousness of trust will move to the front of the pack. Here is why; a PwC study found that 72.8% of Financial Advisors say their perception of an asset management's capabilities is influenced by their digital experience. In B2B2C scenarios intermediaries might be extremely concerned about the perception of trust from their supplier too. If their end-client learns about issues on the supplier side this might cause the intermediary a loss in business.

On the B2C side, an Accenture study found that 54% of digital consumers are cautious about the information they share due to lack of confidence in the online security that protects their personal data. Brands who state their trust focus have a chance to capture business.

Trustworthiness might become a vision for guiding user experience and digital operations, i.e. UX must impart a sense of comfort and ease of use, and digital operations must ensure that data is protected and used in a way that doesn't scare away customers. I think trust is the next phase beyond experience. You will need an exceptional trustworthy experience across the entire customer purchase lifecycle too.

Digital channels including websites and mobile applications require inputs of various data in order to operate, or operate efficiently. You have seen pop-up notifications on these channels asking for permission to access location, contacts or media. Users are expressing a level of trust when they say yes to allow these sites and applications to access their personal data, without ever really knowing how it is being used. I think about access requests and why it is needed before I click allow. In many cases I click deny when accessing my data makes no sense, and diminishes my trustworthiness of the brand.

Another area to think about is personalization, which is a key focus for many brands. Personalization is broad in definition, since you can provide targeted content at an audience level, segment level and 1:1. But is too much spot-on content a little nerve racking? There is a big difference between an explicit registered user experience versus an implicit cookie based experience. Brands need to experiment with the right mix of "knowing too much about me" and how it is being used to give the right experience.

My suggestions to brands:
  • Make trust a key brand performance image and be consistent
  • Benchmark how user experience impacts trust, perception and reputation
  • Review channel user experiences and how they support trust.
  • Develop governance around how to maintain trust levels across the entire user experience
  • Develop robust data protection policies. TrustArc provides an Enterprise Privacy Assessment.
  • Check with customers on what level of personalization is acceptable
  • Think about trustworthiness as a vision to differentiate the brand

In the future trust might end up being more important to a prospect and repeat customer when making a buying decision than perceived product value. A buyer might say that the protection of their personal information and how it is being used is more important than paying a few more dollars. The first experience is the most important, make it count!


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