trust sign
PHOTO: Bernard Hermant

The brand-consumer trust dynamic is at an inflection point. The abundance of data created from every click and purchase in today’s digital world brings benefits, but also comes with the responsibilities of building trust, providing protection and fostering transparency for data.

So how does a brand rebuild the trust dynamic when consumers are more disloyal and distrustful than they ever have been before? By starting with a culture of openness, built on the very item that fuels much trepidation: data.

Related Article: Embracing the Era of Deep, Small Data

Regard Data — and Data Privacy — With Respect

We have reached a culture of polarization, where over-personalized, targeted consumer experiences draw raised eyebrows and backlash. Recall any time you’ve had a conversation with someone else about a type of product or brand, and then you start seeing ads for the aforementioned product everywhere you turn.

And even when privacy is taken seriously, security often is not. Massive public breaches of consumer data have added to consumer mistrust. Brands that respect privacy can still take a hit in the eyes of the consumer if they fail on security.

Concerns like these are valid. The aura around data — its power, its size, breaches and sensitive privacy issues that surround it — is often overwhelming. And with every spam email we receive, or every highly publicized case of companies misusing consumer data, trust of large corporations further erodes.

Consumers are more aware, curious and concerned about how others are capturing and using the data about them than they have ever been before. People feel concerned when they see their personal and sensitive information being “sold” from one vendor to another, and for good reason. What’s needed from brands are data sets that are appropriately entitled and with the capture of provenance and lineage, meaning the data origin and tracking over time is clear.

The “opt-out” reaction has given consumers power, and businesses need to make sure they’re using algorithms that respect boundaries. Integrity with privacy shows that a company cares about human concerns. The use of consumer panels, which include groups of people who represent samples of the broader population, can provide brands with the sweet spot of using “opt-in” consumer data while respecting privacy. Data should not be used without guardrails. There needs to be inputs that we believe in and to which we attach a level of trust. Transparent, trusted and reputable data is paramount for the industry.

We can’t just snap our fingers and trust will be rebuilt. The process for brands to rebuild that trust will be long — and not just with consumers, but for the public at large. But fear of big data can hinder the possibility of truly meaningful, transparent consumer experiences — and that should be cause for concern for brands and consumers alike.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

Let Data Enhance, Not Cripple, Progress

For an economy that relies on trust between the consumers and the companies delivering products and services to them, data serves as the fuel.

To today’s brands, trust is something that you might lose forever if you break it, but if you get it right, it pays you back. If this were easy to solve, then more brands would have figured it out. The relationship between brands and consumers has become more complicated than before, but it doesn’t have to be, if both sides are willing to meet in the middle.

We as consumers contribute willingly to our digital footprint with every action we take, from a product purchase to a social media post. We now have the power to establish guardrails. Yet there’s an emerging dichotomy between warranted concerns about privacy invasion, and the demand for retail and grocery options that come with personalized promotions at the right price points. With every plant-based meat alternative and hard seltzer option that emerges, there’s consumer data behind the decision to launch them. Understanding what makes consumers tick has become much more complicated, with the 9,000 or more products available today than there were 10 years ago — so decisions like stocking more or fewer varietals requires a deep knowledge of a consumer base.

Personalized consumer experiences have a basis in data science, and consumers have an essential role to play in sharing relevant data with the brands that have rightfully earned their trust. In the future, consumers may be willing to barter their data for personalization and other services in an open exchange, which could lead to a more even playing field between consumers and brands. When done right, everyone wins.

Technology can play a part in reinvigorating brand-consumer trust. Machine learning algorithms leverage mathematical techniques that remove biases in the data before they lead to improper results and interpretations. And it’s important to keep in mind that “big data” doesn’t need to be as big and unstructured as it often is — because AI has advanced to the point where businesses need fewer data inputs for AI to be valuable. For a manufacturer of olive oil, dietary restrictions and preferences like gluten-free and organic directly impact their product development strategy, and consumer data on this should be factored in while something like their video game habits is irrelevant. The more deep and specific the data is, the better.

Most essential is a trusted reliance on a culture of openness. Companies must be fully transparent in how they’re collecting and using consumer data, and focus only on the most accurate and essential data. At a time where consumers are distrustful of messages and manufacturers of the products they use, it’s critical for companies to promote a sense of credibility amongst their desired consumer segments.

As complexity continues to increase in the retail marketing space — and the data-driven business-to-consumer world in general — trust will continue to play a part in brands’ experiences. We all have a responsibility to rebuild and regain trust, with truth and transparency as the pillars.