CMO50 special report: Building consumer trust in the digital-first era

CMO50 alumni discuss how they're working to engender consumer trust through technology, personalisation, context and cultural approach

There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of a digital-first economy, fuelled by data and driven by technology capability. Yet it’s also a world that relies on the very human concepts of connection and trust.

According to recent research conducted by Adobe with more than 1000 Australian consumers, more than two-thirds make purchases and recommendations today based on the trust they place in brands. On the flip side, 76 per cent would stop purchasing if they deemed the brand no longer trustworthy, and 57 per cent have already quit at least one brand a year for this very reason. Many consumers will also opt out of communications, cancel subscriptions and post negative social reviews if they feel privacy and trust are compromised.

That same Future of Marketing report tells us earning trust is dependent on asking permission, being open, demonstrating relevance and giving consumers control over how their data is used. By contrast, violating trust occurs when brands are ‘creepy’, fail to listen, disappoint consumers or become annoying.

So what are some of the tools and approaches leading brands are taking to ensure they are building a connection that engenders trust? In trying to find some answers, it quickly became apparent the trust equation between consumer and brand is fluid and evolving.

In putting together our special CMO50 alumni report, Building Trust in the Digital-First Era, brought to you by Adobe, marketing leaders overwhelmingly told us trust isn’t something you ‘solve’ once then stick to. Trust has a life all its own; it’s influenced by macro and micro trends, our growing understanding of how personal and behavioural data is being used, and ever-higher expectations around the perceived right ways to use data, versus the lazy or self-serving ones.

For Tabcorp EGM marketing, customer and product, Luke Waldren, instilling trust with customers comes in two buckets. One is governance and the high regulatory bar set for companies dealing with people’s money and personal information. Secondly, there are the things that build or take away trust in the day-to-day, week-to-week interactions Tabcorp has with customers.

“To build trust on that front, there always needs to be a value exchange – it’s providing them with content, experiences or offers that add value to the time they spend with us,” Waldren says.

Optus VP marketing, Mel Hopkins, is another who sees perception of value being critical to a trust-based connection with customers.

“Customers are pretty reasonable with data as long as they feel there is a value exchange,” she says. “What I do think has happened however, particularly with digital media, is that the value exchange has been forgotten – people are just spamming information out to their base. How you interact and manage is key here, and that’s where privacy and challenges around that come in.”

Outside of information utilisation, trust becomes more altruistic, involving authenticity and transparency holistically as a brand. It’s here CMOs all use the analogy of being in a human relationship.

“One of the things we’re working on internally at Optus is to feel psychologically safe. Because once you feel safe, then you trust. Doing what you say you are going to do when you’ll do it is the guiding light,” Hopkins says. But equally, Optus has realised consumer trust has been built in situations “where we’re willing to say we got it wrong and we’re sorry,” she says.

Demonstrating and communicating impact from the consumer’s perspective is how the Australian Red Cross describes its overarching approach to building trust.

“Transparency is overused as a term, but people do want confidence they made the right decision and that what we have done with their money will make a difference,” says director of engagement and support, Belinda Dimovski. “Many people who donate say they are confident we use their money in the way where we think it’s going to have the most impact. Others will want use to use the donation for a particular program. What we have to do is build trust from both aspects.”

Avoiding the creepy line

Proving impact for Australian Red Cross increasingly involves technology, digital channels and data tools that personalise communications and engagement and provide more transparency while tailoring experiences. REA Group, Tabcorp and Optus are also building out these capabilities, albeit for different growth objectives.

And they’re expected to. Today’s consumer wants personalised interaction, for brands to proactively respond to their needs and wishes, to access information, products and services efficiently and successfully across any channel of their choice, and to do it on their terms.

“The personalisation program of work is the fastest way to grow a very engaged audience: Consumers respond so much more effectively. By far, people want relevancy in what they are doing,” REA Group chief audience and marketing officer, Melina Cruickshank, comments.

Yet approach personalisation in a way consumers don’t agree with, and trust quickly erodes. Cruickshank attributes REA’s recent decision to pull back from ‘deep’ personalisation to heightened sensitivity around privacy, along with the unprecedented levels of personal data shared in Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What we are sensing from consumers is a reluctance to be as overt and immediate with their data sharing,” she says. “There is a lot more data being passed around, and it’s two or three communications in before we get a conversion. That’s extended out from two years ago, where it might have been one to two steps.” 

One live project at REA in response is asking questions, clarifying and tailoring interactions as if the brand is speaking to a customer in person. “Personalisation remains grounded in the individual and what’s relevant to them, but we are not calling out their actions or what they are doing,” Cruickshank says.

Things Tabcorp factors into personalisation efforts to avoid the creepy line include velocity of message, sending communications at the most relevant time of day and having clear criteria on windows where it won’t contact people. Monitoring customer behaviour is key here, as are using suppression lists.

Context further influences how a brand’s personalisation efforts are perceived. “We connect to past times that are entertainment based in racing and sport, so we have the licence to contact in a personalised way beyond a lot of other industries,” Waldren argues. “But that doesn’t let you off the hook for quality of message and its relevance.

“It takes deliberate and focused strategy and effort internally to ensure people understand the cultural aspects of that.”

Want to read more about how our CMO50 alumni are building consumer trust in a data and digital-driven age? Download the full special report here.

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