Digital technology’s massive growth has long been destined for a head-on collision with trusted brand authenticity. In a polarized, fast-changing environment, issues have measurable consequences on brand reputation and company revenue.
Trending news and customer sentiment on topics including data privacy, ethics, social justice, and sustainability can immediately reflect on any company’s brand. Knee-jerk responses like pausing political contributions under public pressure won’t cut it.
Here’s how some high-tech industry researchers described the challenges and opportunities facing companies intent on building authentic brand trust in a dynamically fractious world.
Trust Management Efforts Will Soar
In a recently published Future of Trust report, IDC researchers called on business leaders and technology suppliers to “evolve their understanding of trust and how to achieve it to succeed in the digital economy.” IDC predicted that by 2025, 80% of chief trust officers will demand vendors incorporate security and risk capabilities to measure corporate trust, including vendor relationships and employee reputation.
However, managing trust requires greater business accountability. Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, was amazed at the unprecedented activism of many organizations in the wake of the U.S. Capitol insurrection in early January.
“In a world with this degree of global polarization, and the resulting inability to effect change at the political level, it’s fascinating that corporations are stepping up, trying to fill the void, and taking action,” he said.
Some researchers predicted increasing business responsibility for online content. By 2024, Gartner analysts said content moderation services for user-generated content will be a top CEO priority at 30% of large organizations. They expected every company with an online presence, from social media to retailer platforms, to be challenged to deal with malicious content. They advised brand advertisers to “neutralize polarizing content, and, at the very least, show a balance between views.”
Rethink AI as a Tool for Trust
Digital technologies might force companies to develop a conscience. Greenbaum argued for a market-wide reassessment of the ethics surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), particularly the methodologies behind data gathering and data model creation.
“The AI problem is encumbered, in part, by reprehensible interests in social control by some governments, as well as the greed factor of organizations that are monetizing data using algorithmic analyses,” he said. “At its worst, the surveillance economy has exacerbated a tremendous problem with privacy and security, juxtaposing many business models against ethical behavior. We cannot build anything so fast without understanding its broader implications, especially if that unleashed power is universally available.”
Indeed, by 2023, IDC predicted 42% of organizations will be held to “regulatory certification that their AI- and machine learning-based algorithmic systems are ethical (free of bias and discrimination) and transparent.”
Experience Begets Trustworthiness
Paying lip service to customer demands for trustworthiness is not enough. The customer’s actual experiences will drive brand trust scores up or down. IDC analysts opined that, “Companies with the best price, coolest product, or most memorable marketing campaign will not necessarily have an advantage compared with companies that provide a safe, secured, and seamless experience.” Turns out customers also care about the safety and security of an organization’s employees, how it collects and uses customer data, along with a company’s environmental and social justice efforts.
One Forrester analyst said that trust was only partially about a customer’s perception of brand based on social, moral, or political values. They wrote that, “Experience is more powerful than perception – consistent customer experience quality, frequency of interaction, and intimacy of interaction engender consumer trust in the company and buffer the brand against reputational blunders.”
Digital Transparency Boosts Trust
Consumer data invasiveness is just one component of the brand trust challenge. On the B2B side, technology can boost business trust between buyers and sellers across complex supply chains. But only if organizations can integrate and understand the implications of the data that underpins relationships across business networks, using software applications like supply chain planning and procurement.
“Companies need well-analyzed data and algorithms to tackle complicated supply chains for resiliency based on reality, not erroneous assumptions,” said Greenbaum. “If I’m suddenly switching to a local supplier because my overseas partner is on lockdown, I need good feedback about that supplier so I can trust them with my order and succeed at my job. Without that trust, if I’m trying to deliver something like a vaccine, I would also fail society.”
And in case you thought digital trust was an oxymoron, consider this: IDC predicted that 15% of supply chain transactions will use blockchain to track the provenance of ethical, sustainable practices within two years. Some analysts have long touted blockchain’s potential to foster trusted business transactions that rely on collaboration between different companies. IDC expected 65% of transcontinental shipping to be legislated to use blockchain that tracked crew health information, fuel sourcing, and goods origination by 2023.
Harmonizing data for consistency and quality across an ever-more sprawling web of digital systems is critical to trusted data protection. As intelligence proliferates from innovations like digital twins, AI, and the Internet of Things (IoT), common standards for handling consumer and other data will keep it safer. For example, one semantical data model is foundational to Rise with SAP, the company’s recently announced business transformation as a service.
Digital Can Be a Force for Good
Companies can and must adopt a sincere, strategic stance on issues for society’s benefit. But don’t wait to take action until the activists are banging down your front door. By then, it could be too late for your business and our society.
Follow me: @smgaler
This story originally appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.