The web has evolved considerably over the past several years, sparking numerous debates over its future. Among those voicing an opinion on the subject is its creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who maintains that “it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better.”
I believe wholeheartedly in this statement and that we, as marketers, are in a unique position to contribute to Berners-Lee’s vision of the future and help bring trust back to the web.
Distrust in Digital, Faith in the Physical: Where Do We Go From Here?
Despite all the buzz around ecommerce, 92% of US retails sales still happen offline. Many of the reasons for this are emotionally-driven, such as the desire to experience an item with our senses and the immediate surge of excitement that comes from swiping a card and leaving a store, bag-in-hand. But a growing number of consumers cite trust and security as their primary concerns with online purchasing. After all, you can get catfished by a company on the internet just as easily as by a person. Risks like this have impacted digital brands’ growth considerably, with new research showing that consumers still feel more comfortable giving personal information to brands with a physical store presence.
To counteract the privacy threats associated with the internet, digital brands have put more effort into proving they are genuine and trustworthy. One popular strategy has been the choice of digitally-born brands to move to the physical realm, with several major brands opening physical storefronts to complement their online ones. As examples, Amazon, Warby Parker and Modcloth have all opened brick-and-mortar stores to complement and validate their digital presence — and it’s worked. Today, Warby Parker has more than 70 stores across the United States and Amazon has embraced Whole Foods and Amazon Go, with another supermarket chain in the works.
What Brands Must Be to Rebuild Trust Online
Unfortunately, this isn’t a financially viable route for every business and in many cases, it doesn’t make strategic sense. What’s more, we can’t hope to preserve, much less improve, the internet if we shy away from it. It is our responsibility as brands to overcome the stigma of the web and build trust within the digital playing field.
To achieve this, marketers must ensure their brand is:
Transparent in its Data Practices
Today, data is widely considered the most valuable commodity in the world. Just like oil before it, data has the power to make or break the corporations that control it, prompting concerns over its collection and exploitation that have made headlines. Despite the widely-accepted importance of data, however, few brands treat it with the reverence it deserves — an insensitivity that does not go unnoticed by consumers.
Show your customers you value their data by giving them visibility into how your organization uses it and the power to opt-out at any time. The decision to share personal information with a brand is not taken lightly by today’s customers, nor should it be when every company is vulnerable to cyberattack. Appreciate the risk consumers take in sharing their data by allowing them to continue to own it and have the final say in how it is utilized.
Patient With its Customers
Research suggests that consumers typically wait at least a month before sharing personal data with brands. With such intense competition pervading every industry, it behooves organizations to respect this waiting period and let customers open up in their own time. Moreover, brands should be sensitive not to take advantage of a customer’s data once it is shared. Companies that inundate a shopper’s inbox the moment he or she shares an email address will likely be met with a swift unsubscribe. Ensure offers are personalized and targeted, as well as paced out in a reasonable and digestible manner. Be conscious of how each marketing initiative connects to the proceeding one, so you’re telling a cohesive, not repetitive, story. While knowing when and what to share with a customer is challenging from limited data, start cautiously and refine as the relationship evolves.
Responsive to Needs and Concerns
A primary challenge on digital platforms is consumers’ expectations for immediate gratification. Whether it’s making a purchase or issuing a complaint, consumers want it to happen instantly. Fortunately, with push notifications, chatbots and social media, customer service representatives have more tools available than ever before. Leverage them wisely to deliver the timely and personal experiences consumers crave, regardless of digital boundaries. These actions demonstrate accountability and help brands overcome the perceptions of anonymity and illegitimacy that are so often associated with the web.
Authentic in its Engagements
At the end of the day, loyalty and trust come from building relationships. Personalization tools are making it easier for companies to serve up authentic digital content, even as they scale. For example, at the most basic level, marketers can utilize intelligent personalization software to queue up content and push notifications based on a customer’s location and the local time. More sophisticated personalization can be folded in over time as they share more data and make purchases. This information can, in turn, be used to understand and better support their unique customer journey.
Despite all the opportunities the digital age affords, brands that operate solely online face an uphill battle when it comes to earning consumers’ trust and respect. It’s instinctual to cling to what we know and physical storefronts bring a surety that the web has not yet been able to match. However, with this challenge comes opportunity and a chance to solidify the role of digital marketers for years to come. For those of us who believe in the power of our position and in the promise of the web, it’s a fight that’s well worth the effort.