Digital Distrust: How Brands Can Navigate a World of Disruption
Technology has been a salvation during the pandemic and has thrust us into the age of omni-channel once and for all. And yet, there is a looming threat to the digital brand experience: a growing sense of mistrust in technology and the cyber-verse. Fanned by the flames of fake news, online hate and political interference, consumer mistrust in tech could impact the omni-channel revolution in the not-so-distant future. In this blog we explore signs that mistrust is rising and how brands can influence a more positive outcome.
In the fall of 2020, SLD conducted a scenario planning process to examine the future of large gatherings. One of the uncertainties that is critical to the future of brand engagement is whether or not confidence in the digital realm can be maintained. Today, consumers are happily ordering groceries online, engaging on TikTok and downloading apps that collect data – but there are some signals that this easy-breezy attitude may be slipping.
SIGNAL 1 – INFORMATION SKEPTICISM
President Trump may have co-opted the phrase “fake news,” but the way information is disseminated, sorted and shared on the internet is truly a massive problem. The issue is so complex, governments barely understand it and social media companies themselves appear to have gravely underestimated the consequences. Consumers are beginning to understand that online, discerning fact from fiction isn’t easy.
SIGNAL 2 – MISTRUST OF TECH GIANTS
Large industries such as Big Oil and Big Pharma are viewed with a great deal of skepticism. Big Tech delights people with unprecedented convenience, but fears about issues like job losses to automation are slowly rising. Tech giants are more and more associated with their billionaire owners, how little taxes they pay and how their algorithms are changing our lives.
SIGNAL 3 – SURVEILLANCE FEARS
One pandemic conspiracy theory supposes that Bill Gates plans to inject people with microchips through a vaccine. Given that 81 percent of the US population owns a smart phone that tracks their behavior, this may seem rather ironic. On the other hand, it illustrates a concern about an underlying threat to personal freedom through high tech surveillance. The fact that people haven’t yet recognized and rebelled against current forms of surveillance doesn’t mean they won’t rise up against it eventually.
SIGNAL 4 – A RISE IN CYBER CRIME
As our lives shift into the cyberworld, so does criminal activity. It is becoming rare to meet someone who hasn’t had an email account hijacked or a social media account duplicated – and these are minor offences. As people begin to feel the effects of cyber crime, they will naturally become less trusting in their digital interactions.
WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS FOR BRANDS?
If people begin to lose confidence in digital interactions, this could reduce brands’ abilities to build relationships through their online channels. For example:
- Fake reviews could lead to a decrease in the current confidence consumers place in peer reviews on e-commerce sites.
- Overuse of influencer marketing could further reduce its “authentic” appeal.
- Fake, duplicate sites could reduce the efficacy of e-commerce and advertising on social platforms.
- Concerns about data collection could reduce consumers’ appetite to download brand apps and limit brands’ ability to personalize experiences.
- Government regulations could impact investments brands make in technology and analytics.
- Over-reliance on technology could backfire if a) job losses to automation are high b) a loss of human interaction allows competitors to gain advantage.
- Further divisiveness on social platforms could lead to greater use of private messaging and/or closed groups, locking brands out of engagement opportunities.
WHAT CAN BRANDS DO TO HELP SHAPE A MORE POSITIVE DIGITAL FUTURE FOR ALL?
Given the advantages to using technology, it is in everyone’s best interest to participate in the creation of a positive digital world. Consumers want and deserve to know who they can trust and feel confident in their experiences with brands. Here are some strategies (beyond top tier cyber security) that brands can implement today to contribute to such a future:
1. INCREASE HUMAN INTERACTION AT THE RIGHT POINTS IN THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY
This might sound counterintuitive, but think about the first thing you did when pandemic restrictions were lifted. You probably went somewhere to interact with other people. The pandemic has taught us that we crave human interaction as much as we want convenience. Revising your customer journey to ensure you have the right people in the right places (including ONLINE) will be critical in making the most of the recovery period.
2. DON’T WAIT FOR GOVERNMENT REGULATION TO DO THE RIGHT THING
Even if a law doesn’t restrict you from using technology in a certain way today, that doesn’t mean that it’s ok. Empathy for the consumer should guide your choices. This may be challenging in an environment driven by quarterly profits – but long term, dubious moves could cost brands more than money.
3. MAINTAIN A STRONG PHYSICAL PRESENCE
Throughout the pandemic, closures of stores, restaurants, bank branches, theatres and stadiums have left the commercial real estate market in a state of flux. In spite of the reliance on digital during the pandemic, the power of place, people and gathering has also been notably demonstrated. Consumers do not want to live their lives entirely online. To win in the future, a strong physical presence is key. Innovating now to ensure you are maximizing the physical experience when doors are permanently reopened is critical to ensuring a strong recovery.
4. ASK FOR DATA CLEARLY AND SIMPLY
As a consumer, do you want brands to access your personal data without your knowledge? Do you want your movements and search history tracked by brands? As a brand, it is important to ask for data in a transparent way, provide a meaningful value in return and make it easy for consumers to opt out. Best-in-class loyalty programs ensure consumers are in control of their data.
5. CONSIDER AUTOMATION CAREFULLY
Consumers are not panicking about automation – yet. But as job losses to automation begin to rise, it’s likely that governments will take measures to slow or prevent automation, and in the future, tax it. Opportunities to automate should be considered with a long view considering potential consumer backlash – and anything that touches the customer journey should BENEFIT THE CONSUMER, not just reduce costs.
6. STOP SELLING, START BUILDING
Consumers today are savvy and traditional advertising tactics are falling short. Video game platforms, online beauty brands like ColourPop and Jeffree Star and fitness brands like Peloton and Gymshark demonstrate what it means to build a brand community, and we should all be paying close attention.
In order to reap the benefits technology has to offer now and tomorrow, brands need to actively contribute to shaping a safe and secure digital world. If consumers begin to see technology as the enemy, we will all lose. Taking a longer view of the omni-channel experience is essential to its future well-being.