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The data trust imperative: a new challenge for every brand

Getting people to trust you with their data isn’t easy. But trusted brands will be in the best position to thrive in the digital age, bolstered by better decision-making, more sophisticated engagements and deeper customer relationships says Jed Mole, Acxiom’s chief marketing officer

Trust is the invisible currency of commerce. No business can create value without it. But even the world’s most trusted brands are facing a new kind of trust and a new set of challenges, threats and opportunities.

Brands must now earn data trust: the belief by people that you will use their data to do valuable things for them. And that you’ll do it wisely, sensitively and ethically.

As brand stewards, we’ve never had to earn this kind of trust before. Now we do, and if we succeed, it will open up a new landscape of opportunities.

When you earn data trust, people not only accept the idea that you’re collecting data, they value it. They want you to know more about them because they know they will benefit.

Earning data trust should be a major priority for every brand or at least any brand that wants to understand their customers better and create experiences they’ll actually value. But data trust is already under attack and this affects every brand no matter how they approach data.

Closing the gap

You’d never know it from the news reports, but data is an enormous force for good. Those of us who work with it every day know data has already dramatically improved everything from healthcare, science and government to travel, hospitality, software, shoes and showerheads.

Every discipline in every industry is being transformed by the evidence-led approach that data makes possible. But this reality has been swamped by the other narrative at play: a story of data abuse, data leaks and unethical, manipulative scams.

Data trust is the consumer’s feeling that your brand will use their data to deliver value, and will do so ethically and intelligently

The resulting backlash, from regulators, politicians and pundits, should come as no surprise. But it should trigger concern because if society equates data with dirty dealing, everybody loses.

As they must, regulators are moving in to protect people from data abuse. European Union General Data Protection Regulation, California Consumer Privacy Act and the next wave of legislation are positive steps towards rebuilding data trust.

However, the legislation may lead to some unintended consequences. It arguably signals that data is a contaminated substance. This can lead to a compliance mindset in brands whereby simply complying with regulations becomes the goal, instead of creating a trust-based advantage for consumers.

One thing is becoming increasingly clear: the most successful brands in this new era will be those that actively seek to close the data trust gap for themselves rather than wait for the regulators to do it.

Data trust dividend

The big stories in data tend to focus on targeting, which simply helps marketers create precise audiences so they can reach the right people more efficiently. That’s a massive benefit, but it’s only a small part of the value of data and a fraction of the data-trust dividend.

When you earn data trust, you create a strategic asset for your entire business and can dramatically improve all customer-facing disciplines, including marketing, sales and customer services, by understanding the interests and preferences of each customer and prospect.

That trust also enables all decisions to be customer fixated, from product, price and distribution to creative and media. Customer engagements are enriched online, offline and omnichannel, uniting adtech and martech, and relationships are deepened by consistently delivering value in every interaction.

It’s about doing things for and with the customer, not to and at them. In short, brands that get this right, earning data trust and activating it intelligently, will run circles around brands which don’t. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Data trust in action

Most brands are still struggling with the basics of consumer data: finding audiences for offers and measuring impact to improve return on investment.

Data trust starts with sound data management, stewardship and governance, all guided by a clear, customer-first data strategy. But the data ecosystems behind most brands aren’t helping.

Data is fragmented, identity is obscured, processes are broken and consequently privacy is at stake. Earning data trust with this kind of infrastructure is all but impossible.

Those that have earned data trust are already doing amazing things, from delivering exciting new customer experiences people really value to disrupting whole markets with entirely new business models.

The disruptive unicorns of urban transport and hospitality could only exist because consumers, drivers and homeowners all trusted them with huge amounts of data, some of which is quite sensitive, including real-time location, destinations, travel plans and bank details.

This trust wasn’t given for free; it was earned by delivering new value and explicitly connecting that value to the data exchange. Uber and Airbnb run on unified data layers, not a loosely coupled stack of data silos. They drive home the “UDL + trust” principle and everyone can understand how and why.

London Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, earned the data trust of travellers and turned it into mutual value. It united the data from the airport, parking operations, train services and retail to improve journeys and dramatically increase rewards membership, usage and spend.

“Customers see Heathrow as one entity,” according to the airport’s head of e-business and customer relationship management. “If they interact with one part of the business, they expect the other parts to know who they are and what they need.”

Tipping point

Brands that are trusted by their customers, and each other, can come together to generate even more value for people.

For example, a theme park, hotel chain and car rental brand are likely to have millions of customers in common. With data trust and a trusted safe haven, they can combine their insights to deliver a whole new kind of customer journey that crosses brands to deliver extraordinary experiences. Investing in data trust is preparing for this kind of high-value data exchange.

Data is fragmented, identity is obscured, processes are broken and consequently privacy is at stake

Data trust may be the single most important challenge now facing every brand. With it, you can better understand every customer and serve each one better. But data trust doesn’t come free.

We’re at a tipping point for the entire industry and for every brand. You can either let the data trust crisis run its course, erecting a wall between you and your customers. Or you can earn their data trust, triggering a virtuous cycle of value.

Data trust improves all interactions across all channels and geographies, informs all departments and disciplines, and can even create opportunities for multi-brand journeys and experiences built from shared data.

But only if people choose to give you their data. Whether they make that choice is in our hands.

For more information please visit www.acxiom.com/data-trust

Building an infrastructure of trust

The new data trust stack is an ecosystem that’s optimised for earning data trust, then leveraging it to deliver consistent value to consumers, everywhere you meet them. There are five core principles that are readily available to any brand that recognises the primacy of data trust. And they can all be achieved from where you are now, preserving any technology investments and embracing the processes and applications people are already using.

  1. A unified data layer: the essential foundation
    The most important contributor to data trust is a single, unified data layer that’s informed by and informs all systems of engagement. It’s where adtech and martech come together in the service of the customer.
  2. A privacy-first architecture: privacy by design
    Recent regulations have caused brands to scramble together privacy protections that live at the edge of the data stack. This cannot scale. With a unified data layer, privacy can be designed into the fabric of the data stack, so every channel and process is privacy safe.
  3. Dynamic identity resolution: connecting data to people
    Being able to attach data to an individual accurately, not just a device or browser, is a critical function for data trust and data leverage. Again, the unified data layer makes it possible.
  4. Transparent permissions: the face of trust
    People need to know exactly what they’re signing up for and why. That’s why granular, transparent permission, and the processes that support it, must be baked into any data-trust architecture. With it, everyone in the company knows exactly what data they can use and in what way.
  5. Data governance: actively managing trust
    When customer data is scattered across many platforms and apps, data governance is a constant challenge. With a unified data layer, active data governance becomes organic. So you always know where customer data lives, how and when it’s being used, and how well it’s secured.

Data trust defined

Data trust means consumers not only accept that you’re collecting data about them, they explicitly want you to. Achieving this depends on convincing consumers that six specific things are true. Critically, consumers will only believe these six things if they are true. Data trust must be earned, not simply requested or assumed.

1. Your intentions are good
You want data for good reasons and have no hidden agenda.

2. The data you collect is clear and sensible
You’re only collecting data they’d expect you to collect.

3. You will use their data to deliver value
You will improve your products, services, processes, experiences and offers.

4. Consent will be transparent and revocable
You will ask permission via complete and transparent consent processes.

5 .You won’t abuse their data
You won’t sell or share it without permission or collect data you don’t need.

6. You will keep their data secure
You will protect them from data leaks and identity theft.

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