In Trust We Trust


Business Week’s cover story this week is about a commodity that many businesses don’t seem to have in abundance these days: trust. Only 44 percent of Americans in a recent public survey said that they trusted business, the lowest rating since 2001. According to BW, that’s led to some serious soul-searching in corporate America:

Not long ago, trust and reputation were the domain of the  PR department. Marketing executives, by contrast, pushed products and brands…. That approach doesn’t work so well now—and not just because recession, job insecurity, and hammered home values have made consumers disinclined to part with their coin. The days of consumers passively absorbing a TV commercial—or, for that matter, a banner ad—are over. People research purchases as never before, and they read peers’ opinions about brands and products.  [Emphasis ours]

Business Week’s article focuses on companies like Ford, McDonalds and American Express and their efforts to be more transparent and responsive to the concerns raised by consumers and advocates.

It’s easier than ever for consumers to switch brands – or avoid purchases altogether – which is why businesses need to focus on all aspects of the consumer experience, not just customization or value.

As the article notes, trust has moved back to the top of many corporations’ outreach efforts. Yes, that means such things as stressing quality and new technology, but it also means responsible use of consumer’s personal information. As headline after headline has shown, there are few better ways for a company to undermine trust than to act cavalierly with its users data.

Many businesses have responded to their awareness of the key role privacy plays in ensuring trust by appointing a senior level chief privacy officer to help oversee their practices. Across almost every business sector, the International Association of Privacy Professionals now reports 6000 members. Oddly, one sector which makes robust use of consumer data is underrepresented. The major advertising agencies, charged with protecting and enhancing the brands of their clients and often delving deep into consumer data use to do so, do not appear to be active in privacy circles.  WPP has a senior executive charged with privacy; the others surely are aware of the proliferating privacy issues today, and it would be in their interest to be more visible, one would think.

AS BW makes clear, engaging users and critics before they blog, Facebook and Twitter their gripes to the world is smart business and key to maintaining a trustworthy brands. The ad agencies charged with responsibility for those brands would do well to recognize the importance of trustworthy data practices to the success of those brands.