I’ve found myself thinking a tremendous amount about the notion of trust this week. <insert random digs about lost weekends in Las Vegas etc> Seriously though, a couple of disparate things crossed my desk that got the ol’ spidey-senses tingling.

One, I helped set up a Facebook account for my 75-year old parents. Now these are people with a passing acquaintance with the internet, let alone a high comfort level with tagging photos of their last tea and biscuits party. However, having recently emmigrated to the UK (did I mention how brave they are??) the desire to remain “connected” meant that they had to embrace the world of Skype (Scarp according to my Dad) and Facebook. Try explaining Facebook is free and holds all this deep information to a man who is used to looking a bank manager in the eye when making a withdrawal.

Two, we’ve been drafting an industry white paper on the topical US subject of personal data, privacy and privacy legislation. Whilst for many Europeans this legislation is rather antiquated – ask the Germans and Swiss about opt-in and opt-out – its still a huge burning platform for digital marketers especially those relying on search and behavioural targeting.

Three, my favourite brain candy mag Fast Company released an awesome infographic on “The Business of Facebook” which had some truly scary, amazing, terrifying numbers. Facebook now has the profile for 1 out of every 11 people on the planet. WTF?? 1 in 11. I’m sure the NSA (or the INS for that matter) would kill for that kinda profiling. Exclude my parents but that’s the global equivalent of the Book of Mormon which is the genealogy list for the entire Mormon faith.   

Finally, Martin Lindstrom’s great article on the powerful impact of fear in buying behavior. In it he talks about why condom and gun sales go up in a recessionary environment. In short, smartphones, GPS and Netflix notwithstanding, we’re still quite simple id-driven beings. When under pressure we revert down Maslow’s hierarchy and look for security, warmth, sex etc. We instinctivally go back to basics we can see, touch and feel because they restore our trust in the world.

Independently, all interesting topics – especially my Dad and the Book of Faces which is the content for another 10 blog posts – but all fundamentally about trust and the trust we have in brands and business.

I know for me how fragile the notion of trust is. You trust Coke will always deliver that real cola taste. That Southwest will offer me the cheapest domestic flights. IBM is making the world smarter. And so on. Yet what happens when you get a flat, no-fizzy Coke at the movies, Southwest is out-priced by Jet Blue and the fastest supercomputer in the world is Chinese? That trust erodes just a little. In that trust-based world I philosophically struggle most with so much residing on a free platform like Facebook (or should I say SkyNet?) and then I balance that against the genuine amazing utility their platform gives me. Even more of a struggle when I have to imagine every hacker on the planet is trying to get inside that particular Pandora’s box.

A perhaps not-so-surprising generational attitude arose when, for the white paper I mentioned earlier, we surveyed a number of people on data security and privacy. Many “digital natives” were not particularly concerned because they overtly took personal responsibility for their data on-line, enabled all the relevant tools to prevent being cookied and, ultimately gravitated towards brands they trusted. They certainly weren’t blaise, they were just prepared to give more latitude to brands who had earned their trust.

I certainly don’t have the answer on whether that balance sits. Ultimately thats a very individual decision. Personally, my primordial brain shudders at the often flippant way we give highly sensitive information to companies like our banks, our insurance, our HMO’s, our social networks. We just assume they’re a safe haven. My highly-evolved (sans Las Vegas of course) brain can’t imagine today’s world where I wouldn’t freely give them information like that.

How do you balance this notion of trust? Do you believe we trust brands and business too much? How much are you prepared to entrust them with? What do you expect in return?

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