How to Build Consumer Trust in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Marketers must invest in consumer rights, transparency, AI and more to find a personalization balance

The goal for brands should be to make their consumers feel valued and safe. Getty Images
Headshot of Jon Suarez-Davis

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. As explained by the World Economic Forum (WEF), it’s a time defined by technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3-D printing and quantum computing. While these innovations are improving our daily lives, they’ve also increased consumer expectations for personalized brand experiences, causing massive disruption for marketers.

The challenge for marketers is that personalization is dependent on the use of consumer data. However, recent privacy-related regulations and security blips have caused consumers to reevaluate their trust in brands and also their willingness to share personal information. In this new reality, marketers must grapple with how to balance delivering personalized experiences while also ensuring consumers are comfortable with how their data is being used.

In my last Adweek article, I explored how to build a world-class consumer engagement company on a foundation of trust, noting that brands have always been built on a foundation of trust. What needs to change today is how they’re building it and maintaining it with consumers.

Here is how they can do just that.

Adopt a consumer rights approach to data management

By demonstrating a commitment to protecting consumer information and enacting a strong privacy policy, consumers will feel valued, safe and encouraged to engage with your brand.

Creating trust within an organization means leading with empathy and prioritizing consumer rights over everything else. As a marketer, let your decisions be guided by the golden rule: Are you treating consumers as you would expect to be treated yourself? Complying with regulations won’t cut it; trust means going above and beyond minimum standards. People already assume a company is following the law, but they need to feel like the brands they interact with are also doing what’s right by them.

There are three things brands can do to ensure they are following consumer rights-focused approach.

  • Employ data management practices and technologies that capture explicit consumer consent.
  • Provide visibility into how a brand views and treats each and every person based on their data, and ensure consumers have the ability to modify the information.
  • Adopt a scalable AI solution to provide consumers who gave consent with personalized experiences.

Navigate the personalization paradox to deliver mutual benefits

According to a recently released Salesforce report, Trends in Consumer Trust, marketers are facing a personalization paradox. On one hand, companies need to use data to provide relevant brand experiences. On the other, consumers are mindful of sharing their data and protecting their privacy. To navigate this paradox, marketers need to realize that they’ll be dealing with consumers with various levels of understanding and comfort when it comes to data.

The research shows that 64 percent of millennials and Gen Z, compared with 35 percent of baby boomers, are comfortable with companies using their data to drive personalized engagement. At the same time, younger generations are more likely to understand how companies use their information and will trust a company that explains how employing their data improves their consumer experience. For brands, this means ensuring messaging around data collection and usage is clear to the intended audience for maximum engagement.

Prioritize transparency for better engagement

Even if it takes over-communication, marketers should go the extra mile to explain to their consumers how the data they will share will give them the experiences they want. They should also provide consumers with control over what information they share and be clear about how insights will be used. By demonstrating a commitment to protecting consumer information and enacting a strong privacy policy, consumers will feel valued, safe and encouraged to engage with your brand. That’s why 92 percent of customers are more likely to trust businesses with their data when they’re given control over what’s collected about them. In order to meet these consumer demands, marketers need to provide clear avenues for control for them, such as a consent management dashboard that shows which data is being used and how.

Utilize AI to build authentic relationships

AI presents a massive opportunity for marketers, but most consumers are unclear of how companies are using the technology. Many think AI refers to robots and don’t understand that the most common uses are natural language processing (such as voice-activated assistants), machine learning (such as tools driving product recommendations) and deep learning (such as facial recognition). Marketers would benefit from taking a step back and providing more education to consumers around the value of AI and how it’s already delivering exceptional consumer experiences.

For example, Lids, the retailer specializing in athletic headwear, turned to Salesforce Einstein (Salesforce’s AI technology) to replace mass email blasts with personalized communications to engage with its various audiences. The results were incredible: Lids saw its email open rate jump from 6 to 27 percent, and the average click-through rate increase two and a half times. This just goes to show that marketing is better when it is relevant and permission-based.

Attract next-gen consumers by prioritizing social values

More than other generations, millennials and Gen Z are more likely to buy from and recommend a company if they trust it. For them, trust is not only about understanding how their data is used and getting personalized experiences in return, it’s also about believing that a company is committed to social values, such as protecting the environment, promoting diversity and inclusion and giving back to the community. For many consumers, these values are often as important as price or convenience. Brands should consider the expectations of next generation consumers and decide whether its priorities are aligned. Brands can do more to earn the trust of their consumers by providing eco-friendly options when purchasing items, such as launching a carbon offset program or donating a portion of certain sales to nominated charities.

Today’s consumers judge brands based on more than the quality of their goods and services. They expect personalized engagement but are also concerned about how the data that drives customized experiences is obtained and used. There’s no debate about it: In order to be successful, companies must put consumer trust at the center of everything they do.


@jsuarezdavis Jon Suarez-Davis is svp, marketing innovation and CMO programs for Salesforce and a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.