How can Brands restore user trust?

Along with privacy and identity, trust is probably one of the most contentious and debated words especially in relation to data and the digital economy.  The purpose of this thought piece is to present a concept; which presents itself when the user has access to their own data.

An assumption, ahead of thinking about trust propositions, relates to data portability/ mobility.  The concept behind data portability as part of a regulatory frameworks such as GDPR and PSD2, relates to the user being given the right to ask for their data back from the company that has collected it.  As an idea it is seen as controversial as data control/ ownership is seen by brands as a key strategic requirement to remain relevant, to offer personalisation and keep control of the customer. This concept argues ( in alignment with WEF report ) that giving the data back to consumers actually creates a far bigger opportunity for growth, competition, market entry, openness and enables brands to differentiate more. The creation of new growth and wealth requires the current data collector and controller to shift their mind-set from "control to win", to delivering what the customer wants first.

The 3 E's of TRUST ?

There are two existing models of trust that are relevant to business and to keep it really simple let's call them "experience" and "emotional."  Experience trust is simple to grasp, every time you do something and whatever you do, it all works/ functions (within reason) as you would expect.  This works as expected feedback loop reinforces a message that whatever you use can be trusted. Think about using your bank card, starting the car, getting on a plane, charging your phone, posting a picture on Facebook, using a vape pipe, drinking water, taking a taxi, texting, etc. Society depends on experience trust, as it makes life simple and convenient. As the old advert goes  "it does what is says on the tin." Virtually every band and every company has close to 100% experience trust, as without it there is no first or repeat customers. Further we also love rules, regulations and standards which make the services repeatable anywhere at any time from any provider, essentially experience trust makes usage and choice easy.

Emotional trust is the subtle bit. "Do I believe that the company I am about to use has my best interests at heart?"  Your bank can make the payment (experience trust - it will happen as promised) but do you trust it that it is giving you the best products, service or advice?  Whilst there are always a few exceptions; the reality is that pharma, government, the church, charities, banks, social media, medical, insurance, CPE, retail, gaming, media and auto have eroded our natural goodwill emotional trust from very high to a lot lower.  As consumers we feel that "brands don't have our best interests at heart." Yes, you can use any service and trust it will do what you want (the joy of regulation and standards) but we have generally lost faith in companies purpose, ethics, morals and integrity. To hide this start reality many of the world's biggest brands spend vast sums in marketing and branding to keep focus on it works (experience) as the reason to trust them. Whilst there is no other choice, we have no option but to fall back to experience trust as our best mechanism for selection, leaving emotional trust out of the decision making cycle..  

The implication could extend to the reason we don't implicitly (emotionally) trust digital brands at one level is because we know that our data is being used/ abused as the mechanism to make money/ create value/ generate wealth for the business/ investors/ shareholders in exchange for the service.  Therefore we translate this into the motive behind the every piece of communication as one of their gain at our loss on some level; however subtle.

Something disruptive and novel is happening and it opens up a whole new world of trust that was either lost/ forgotten never existed - this will, I am sure be debated. For want of a better way to describe this new trust component I will label it Enablement trust ( keeps everything to E - the third E of trust !)  Before we describe enablement trust, we need to remind ourselves of the context of data portability/ data mobility, where the user/ consumer can ask for their data back.  The wider concept (which is not new) is that the user is the best person to have/ store/ keep/ retain their own data. Up to now (2018) this has been a very hard concept to grasp and evaluate but companies are emerging who make this ideal simple. In the same way we don't understand how email works, but we use it, we don't need to understand how giving users control and consent of their data works if it is secure, private, trustable and simple.

Where is the link between data portability and enablement trust?  

Whilst the corporates owned and controlled your data, they offered to you products based on a limited data set and they used this position to offer and sell products and service that were a good business case but may not in your best interest (as the business case for the service that matched you needs did not work so have this one as it works at scale) and lost emotional trust in the process.  As we have become increasingly digital, Brands are collecting and keeping more data on and about you to they have the right to reach you. Owing your data gives them the power in the relationship and a hope that functional trust and marketing is sufficient to keep you "loyal."

When all your data is back into your own care and position, you the user can now decide who looks at their data, who can provide products and services, you as a user are in control not just of the data but become in control of the channel.  There is a shift in the power balance.

Anthony Thomson argues in his book No Small Change that brands have largely paid lip service for the past 30+ years to customer first, customer centric and all that thinking. When data is back with the user, the customer is now first.   The corporate will now have to ask the customer to look at their data, this changes the relationship.

Enablement trust becomes interesting as a concept.

If the corporate fouls up in the current model, the user has very few real alternatives - in the new model the user can turn off your feed to their data.  Therefore, the corporate who works out that by putting the user first, really creates amazing customer experiences is the one the user may choose to keep using and allow access to every more new and rich data.  This is enabling the corporate to re-establish emotional trust by showing to the user that they are putting the user's best interests at heart: because they have to.

This concept does not wipe out or destroy the existing model or Brands, it allows a few Brands to move into a new position, that will be very lucrative for the first ones.

Therefore, giving data back can have two effects on corporate thinking.  The first is the immediate response. Lock down, never, this gives up on our position, we have invested to create this data, the value is in control, we know better than the user, in summary defence and defend.  This position will survive and companies who are here will still flourish. The second, subtle and different reasoned argument is that we have a chance to change the game, we can be the first mover, we can win by doing what we have said we would do forever - put the customer first and do that every day in everything we do, and we have a ability to be there serving our customers.

How do brands turn this around?

Trust and transparency and taking the customer on the journey by story-telling is one way that springs to mind. There will be other ways and the introduction of more personalised engagement helps to show that a brand really cares about me (and puts my best interests first) and what I like. Is this only about consumerism and personalisation or a greater story where as a brand companies have to demonstrate they care more and that they have a responsibility to be more active in their CSR?  The difference data makes is that we can now see who does what they promise and who does not. Given we probably don't trust brands to do this by themselves and the regulators will be too slow, let's start by taking charge of our own data.

Where does fit?

The reason exists is to enable users to easily, quickly and without having to worry get their data back.  The beauty of the solution is that the user is not being asked to take their data from one big untrustable data store to another, it comes to them and only them. does not see, touch or hold any user data. We cannot sell it. We empower the user then to decide who has access and provide best in the world consent management controls for the user.  

The thinking comes after reading Anthony Thomson's excellent book called "No Small Change."  He proposed the idea of functional (experience) and emotional trust with much more description. Tony Fish has expended it to offer the idea of enablement.