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How brands can use data to build trust in a post-truth world

26th Feb 2018
Amaze One
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The mismanagement of data often harms customer trust. But brands can also create trust through their positive use of data. 

Trust. It’s a bond we aim to build from the second we’re born. From that moment onwards, trust touches many areas of our lives, helping to define who we are and which people we let into our lives.

Little wonder, then, that modern consumers also treat their brand relationships with the utmost caution. According to our poll of more than 2,500 UK consumers’ data habits, some 56% value trust and transparency most highly in those relationships, with this figure rising to 86% among people aged over 35.

In other words: brands that demonstrate they only have their customers’ best interests at heart, and respect the boundaries of the relationship, can be welcomed in with open arms. But those that want to poke around uninvited into the corners of consumers’ lives may have to get used to the sound of slamming doors.

Why trust is a must

It’s useful to understand in the first instance what trust means to consumers.

Crucially, and especially with GDPR’s launch date fast approaching, trust appears to be the crucial ingredient in making customers more willing to divulge their personal information. Some 57% of our respondents cited transparency and 33% felt that positive brand reputation would make them more comfortable sharing their data.

Trust is also built as a result of a brand being explicit about how it’s going to use a customer’s data.

Almost three-quarters of the people we polled cited this as a concern. In fact, 44% said they were more concerned than when they were asked the same question in a similar survey 12 months earlier. Meanwhile, some 70% admitted they felt “out of control” of their own personal information once they had shared it with organisations.

The unconscious factor

Despite this negativity under cross-examination, I believe that on a day-to-day basis calculations about trust are part of the consumer’s unconscious decision-making. Our industry often makes the mistake of believing consumers spend an age weighing up lots of factors, of which trust is one, before making an informed choice about whether to buy or not. It’s much simpler, and quicker, than that. Mistrust is a feeling or notion that crosses the mind instantaneously and makes people less willing to engage with a certain brand.

That unconscious feeling is fed by many inputs. It’s partly down to the relevance and value in a brand’s communications, for example. I might get an email from one of the online grocers on a Wednesday afternoon, offering discounts and free delivery in exchange for my loyalty.

Uber has built its business by understanding where people are, where they’re going and a quick and easy transactional method.

The timing of that message couldn’t be better, and it’s clearly been sent because the grocer knows I tend to place orders in midweek, and stock up on many of the items it’s knocking money off for my benefit. Not only is that smart use of data, it also breeds trust because I can see the retailer is putting my information to good use.

In other sectors, there are great examples of brands creating trust through their use of data.

Look at Uber. Despite the taxi company’s ongoing licence troubles in London, it’s undisputedly built its business by understanding where people are, where they’re going and a quick and easy transactional method. In return for a largely good service people are comfortable sharing their personal details, including intimate information like home address and payment data.

What are the building blocks of trust?

Authenticity is another crucial building block for trust. In general, brands need to work harder at broadcasting their mission statement, then living and breathing that ethos. Shoppers are much more interested in provenance of ingredients, supply chain management and environmental issues thanks to media exposés and the ease of online research.

They’re also becoming savvier about fake news and reviews, and the legitimacy of influencer marketing. These are all factors that need to be considered in a CRM strategy alongside transparency around the daily use of data.

Two recent celebrity-backed launches make an interesting counterpoint. Zoella, perhaps the most recognisable UK vlogger, was roundly criticised for her Christmas advent calendar. It retailed at £50 (before Boots recognised a backlash and promptly halved the cost) and received bad press for containing items that had little to do with her brand and overall sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, singer Rihanna launched a new cosmetics range which won plaudits for its make-up, including lots of different tones and accessories, which rang true with her personal brand and felt authentic.

Listen and learn

Finally, never underestimate the power of easy feedback. At all touchpoints, it should be simple for a customer to offer their thoughts – occasionally good, more often than not bad if they’re making the effort to get in touch, but valuable nevertheless. That means using data collected on the individual to understand how they want to feed back (channel) and what to do with that information (campaign learnings). If they’re telling you they are being contacted too often or with “pointless” messages, for example, feed that back into your CRM system.

So be aware of consumers’ growing trust issues and promote transparency within your organisation. Don’t view trust in isolation, as a range of factors can influence and build or destroy it. Add value through your data use, being relevant and showing you understand your customers as individuals. Strive to have an ongoing, mutually beneficial conversation with them.

Nail all of those things, and next time there’s a Most Trusted Brands index in the offing, you’ll doubtless have a shot at the top spot.

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