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The History – and Future – of Trust in Digital Marketing (Thinks Out Loud Episode 241)

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Trust in Digital Marketing: Customers using digital who don't trust you

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The History – and Future – of Trust in Digital Marketing (Thinks Out Loud Episode 241) Transcript

Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. Today is Tuesday, March 12th 2019. This is episode 241 of the big show, and as ever, I really, really appreciate you tuning in.

I’ve been talking for the past handful of episodes about data. I got a question from a listener, Steve in Cincinnati, who asked, “Should customers disguise their digital footprints from businesses? When customers are traveling around and interacting with your business, should they be protecting their data from you as a company?”

I think what Steve’s really asking is, “Shouldn’t customers be protecting their data from you as a company?” I think there are a couple of answers to this question, and to answer it, I’m going to have to take some odd digressions at points. First, whether or not customers should, we know that /they already do/. We know that customers already do with companies who haven’t earned their trust.

If you think about the rise of ad blockers and how prominent they have become, if you think about anonymous mode, if you think about GDPR, which was something I talked about in a previous episode. GDPR exists because we as marketers screwed up. GDPR exists because we did not do enough to protect our customers. Not even their data, but our customers themselves, their privacy, their rights.

Customers will increasingly protect their data, their digital footprints, whenever companies misstep. It’s obvious that you shouldn’t misuse something that doesn’t really belong to you. I’ve said many times that data is the crowned jewels, and that you need to protect that data as if your company depends upon it, because as I said many times, it does.

At the same time, I don’t want any of this to be but, because obviously everybody ignores everything that came before the but, so please don’t take this that way. I think it is also true that customers share data constantly. Everyone claims that they care about privacy, and they do until you offer them something of value in exchange.

Data really is a currency, and I’m sorry to say, I actually don’t think this is a good thing. But privacy is something of a currency. Customers have learned they can trade their privacy for some value. It could be coupons, could be a white paper download, it could be any number of things where customers say, “Yeah, I get that I’m giving up a little bit of my privacy, but in exchange, I’m going to receive some value.”

That’s something that I think is going to remain true for a long time. I think all the evidence suggests that that will remain true for a long time. What I find really fascinating, and I’m going to go kind of far afield on this for a moment, is that I think we’re going to see a number of technologically enabled solutions as we go forward. We’ve already seen some, and we’re starting to see more moves in this direction, but I want to explain why.

It used to be trust was something that was imbued in a brand. You chose your local bank, or your doctor, or the person who repaired your car, or a lawyer, or things along those lines, based on how much you trusted them. Based on word of mouth frequently, they had an inherited trust from what your friends and family told you about them, but also their reputation. The same was true for stores. You shopped at particular stores, or you bought from particular vendors, or you worked with particular companies because you had some trust relationship there. Something about them made them trustworthy.

What we’ve seen, one of the things that digital has done, is it’s sort of distributed the role of trust over the years. If we want to go back in history, this really started with Amazon reviews, and even more so, I would say eBay. eBay really invented the concept of trust on the internet, in that when you bought from Amazon, there was a big company there. I’m not talking about Amazon Marketplace, because at the time, Amazon Marketplace really didn’t exist.

But when you bought from eBay, when you bought a Beanie Baby from some person who you’ve never met before who lived in some other part of the country or some other country altogether, you didn’t know who this person was. You didn’t know that when you handed off your money. You didn’t know that the thing you were going to buy, the Beanie Baby, or a used guitar, or the cool T-shirt, or things along those lines, you had no idea prior to that whether or not you could count on it arriving, whether or not you could count on the person not pocketing your money and just taking off with it.

eBay and PayPal really started to say, “It’s okay. One, because you can trust this person, because we’ve got ratings and reviews, and two, because we’ve built some mechanisms that protect you from bad actors.” What that created was an ecosystem where you could trust people you’d never met, people who you would never meet. You knew that it was all going to be okay, because the system reinforced trust.

It’s really led to an environment … If you fast forward through all the years and all the different … I don’t want to jump over history too much, because there were some cool innovations along the way, but I also want to point out that today we have things like Uber, or Airbnb, or Etsy, where you can just buy from some little random shop person, no offense to the people on Etsy, but some craftsperson who you’ve never met, and know that you’re going to be taken care of.

You can go stay in someone’s home or someone’s apartment, sometimes with them there at the same time, even though you’ve never met them, because again, a trust framework has come up that says, “It’s going to be okay.” I know I’m not the first person to make this joke, but we were all taught as kids, “Don’t get into cars with strangers,” and now that’s what we do every time we take a ride on Uber, or Lyft, or any other ridesharing service, because trust is built into the system.

Obviously, if you get into things like scooters, and all these other kinds of transportation services, just leave your bikes sitting there, and somebody won’t take it and walk away from it. It’ll be fine. Or a service like Turo that lets people rent your car and just drive off in your car, and it’s okay, it comes back. Those are extraordinary extensions of what has happened with trust.

I think we’re going to get even further. I don’t know if it’s going to be blockchain, or if it’s going to be some other type of distributed ledger technology, but just as PayPal anonymized and protected your banking details or your credit card details when you made transactions, and obviously Venmo has picked up on that in recent time, I think we’re going to see distributed ledger technologies, possibly blockchain itself, more likely other services that are built on top of those distributed ledgers that allow you to release your private information in pieces, and pull it back in pieces, sort of escrow accounts for your personal information.

I think customers will increasingly have tools that will allow them to protect their data, to protect their privacy from companies that they don’t trust, and as they do, as those services begin to exist, I have no doubt that customers will take advantage of them, because that’s exactly how we got PayPal, and how PayPal led to Venmo. It’s exactly how we got eBay, and eBay led to Uber, and Airbnb, and Lyft, and Turo. It’s where these things kind of logically go.

Regulation’s one way we’re going to get there, but another way is that the market will find solutions. Now, what I would recommend is you can be the type of company that simply lets regulation tell you what to do, or you can be the type of company that doesn’t need it. Now, I get it, that might sound naive to say, “Oh no, don’t worry about regulation. Yada, yada, yada.” I don’t mean it that way.

Obviously, sometimes regulation is very necessary to protect customers from bad actors, and sometimes regulation causes unnecessary harm to the free market, and requires companies to push the boundaries, not because they’re trying to do anything wrong, but because they’re trying to do what’s right, because the boundaries actually are hurting people more than they’re helping people. I fully understand that.

What I’m saying is as customers have increasing control over who gets access to their data, and for how long, and in what ways, you’re only going to win if you’re the type of customer … if you’re the type of company that customers are okay letting that be you. Because fundamentally, they’re still only going to work with people that they trust, and so customers, Steve, will disguise their digital footprints. They will disguise their data. They will hide their data from companies. The question is, are you going to be the type of company that they’re going to want to do that?

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I’d like to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all our episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 241.

While you’re there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find there, to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single episode. You can also subscribe in the iTunes, or the Google Play music store, or Stitcher Radio, or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud, or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those.

I’d also very much appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating or review while we’re there. It’s so helpful. I really, very much appreciate it. Since we’re talking about trust, let people know you trust us to deliver you quality content in every episode.

I’d also like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment focuses on AI driven content discovery and site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, your customer satisfaction, and make your search smarter by going to

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter, or of course you can email me. Just send your emails to Again, that’s

With that, I want to say thanks so much for listening. I really, really appreciate it. I hope you have a great week ahead. I hope you have a fantastic weekend, and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud again next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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