Trust in the digital age
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - July 2, 2018 - 12:00am

The influence of the digital economy is not all rosy.  It has also brought a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world where too often business benefit is at a cost to the bigger society.

Consumers remain king. Trust can make or break a brand. And in a digital economy, creating and preserving their trust has become more complicated. Digital technology is swiftly altering your life by linking you on social, exposing the world’s knowledge online and building a shared economy with more opportunities for everyone. Add to this the impact of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and sensor technologies.

But the influence of the digital economy is not all rosy.  It has also brought a VUCA world — a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous domain where too often business benefit is at a cost to the bigger society, a realm where you witness a breakdown of trust, as well as a miscalculation of short-term impacts over long-term implications.

A crisis in brand reputation could surface and spread like wildfire. Your brand could be an international sensation or dead meat in an instant. Traversing the modern-day undercurrents of trust in a digital age needs a more sophisticated approach that takes a closer description of your brand’s audience and the media platforms it uses.

An Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that the general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, non-government organizations, and media — has declined broadly, and in the era of fake news, the media is now distrusted in 80 percent of the countries surveyed. This is also having the effect of pitching advertising with the same stroke, projecting your brand with a complicated image.

The need for a trust framework for the digital age is now a given.  Dentsu Aegis Network, a leading advertising and digital communications group, provided a fresh perspective on how brands can build trust with consumers. Based on extensive client engagement, and guided by a research study involving 6,400 consumers across major markets like China, Germany, the United Kingdom and United States, they developed a new framework for consumer trust, which delivered a new lens on trust-building fit for the digital age. Some of the dimensions of the framework cover these aspects:

Reliability is the foundation of trust in a digital economy. News of poor service or product flaws can be shared globally in an instant. Consumer loyalty has been on the wane in most industries for many years, while switching is also increasingly common. Within this context, we need to get the basics right, since it is the base on which all other trust-building efforts must sit.

Amid industry disruption and change, an established heritage continues to be a key driver of trust. Incumbents need not give up hope yet as their legacy can in fact be a source of competitive advantage. Consumers trust brands that have a history, not just the latest start-up. It matters more than we think.  To combat concerns about fake news, for example, The New York Times ran a series of ad spots under the banner, “The truth is hard to find,” showing the work and expertise that go into journalism.

Consumers today see more of the inner workings of business. However, more sophisticated uses of digital technology risk making business activity more impenetrable. Opening up parts of the business to external scrutiny in new or unexpected ways is emerging as an important way of building trust and differentiating a brand, particularly in sectors that have suffered significant reputational damage.

Consumers call the shots. Consumers appear to be less concerned about how close a brand gets to them or even the extent to which it puts their interests first, as they can hold them to account by other means. Closeness was, in fact, one of the original dimensions of the Trust Equation, but today seems relatively obsolete as consumers are empowered to ensure that a brand is open (transparency) and honest (mutual disclosure).

Building a trust advantage

In the digital age, five steps can set your brand on the path to a competitive advantage:

Understand your brand’s trust-building performance versus competitors. Separate and prioritize the different drivers of trust to help focus resources more effectively. This process of prioritization will allow you to concentrate on those areas that potentially allow greatest differentiation while ensuring you address areas of weakness.

Adapt your approach to your brand across drivers, audiences and channels. As emerging technologies change the way your brand interacts with consumers — embracing voice activation, AI chatbots and even mixed reality, for example — it will be critical for your brand to monitor carefully its impact on brand trust.

Integrate insights into your core business decision-making. Given the potential impact of trust on a brand’s stakeholder reputation and financial performance, trust insights should be shared regularly across product development, strategy, external relations and CSR functions.

Engage the consumers who don’t trust your brand as you engage those who do. Consumers with a high level of trust in your brand can provide an ideal testing ground for new products and services. And consumers who don’t trust your brand can potentially generate insights into what your brand could be doing better. Gathering more diverse perspectives through social listening or focus groups, which could help your brand stay ahead of the game.

Monitor the impact of trust in your brand. Consumer trust manifests itself across many business measurements: loyalty and retention, revenue and even share price. Tracking consumer trust against other potential metrics can provide insight into the bottom-line impact of trust as well as the value of an effective consumer engagement strategy to your business.

How can your brand make sure that it drives meaningful change with the transformation that the digital economy brought to the way people work and live?

The most important first step that can be taken is to recognize and acknowledge society explicitly as a stakeholder in how your brand must be run. The process can begin with a CSR strategy that will engage a large number of employees, unlock precious billable hours for good, strengthen collaboration, innovation and pride among corporate colleagues and partners, and step up and create a more shared value for societal good.

If important audiences can form a framework where building trust is an integral factor, the digital economy would benefit from these developments. Data governance and regulation, but also values and business ethics, are important areas to be considered if you are to continue to accept such rapid changes in your business and brand environment. Without all these in the equation, developing trust will be difficult and unaccepting of future digital advancements.

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