Trust plays an important role in interpersonal relationships. The same can be said of business relationships. In both cases, trust means a willingness on the part of each partner to assume a certain amount of risk.
In an interpersonal relationship, the risk may be that a partner will act unfaithful or otherwise behave in a hurtful manner. In a business relationship, the risk may be that a partner will disregard quality control standards or divulge product design information or drag its feet when it comes to integrating new systems, resulting in a missed market opportunity.
Fostering Levels of Trust
In deploying enterprise applications centered on collaboration, in particular, companies need to foster high levels of trust. Putting a technology solution in place to automate a company’s supply chain, for example, involves more than just systems integration.
It also requires that trust be forged with suppliers, given the need to share proprietary information on scheduling, production capacities and cost targets. In this context, trust generally evolves out of a demonstrated commitment to work together collaboratively, solve problems jointly, and share responsibility for any operational problems that arise.
Trust is a strange animal in the world of business. Its inputs and outputs are ambiguous. It can’t be codified. Like other intangible assets, it appears nowhere on the balance sheet.
The degree to which one company declares its reliance on the integrity and character of another company remains purely judgment-based and therefore subject to the foibles of human error — although some folks, including those at Trust Enablement Strategies, a firm that provides an analytic framework for assessing the level of trust that exists (or needs to exist) between two parties, may beg to differ.
Pay Attention to Web 2.0
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of trust in the context of consumer marketing and the fact that control over a brand’s marketing messages — and indeed it’s very image — is continuing to shift from traditional media to online communities. Of course, what underlies this shift is the fact that consumers place far more trust on the opinions of other consumers than they do on a company’s traditional marketing messages.
By now, most companies recognize that blogs, discussion forums and other Web 2.0 social media can provide a highly effective platform for any consumer who wishes to share their recommendations, experiences or opinions about any given brand. Their voices can wield an enormous amount of influence in shaping other consumers’ opinions — and, ultimately, their purchase decisions.
While it may be true that companies can’t control consumer dialog, they can certainly pay close attention to it. Moreover, if appropriate, they can modify their own messages and/or strategies accordingly.
Monitoring Brand Loyalty
With the advent of a new breed of solutions designed to monitor, analyze and measure the impact of consumer-generated media, companies are becoming increasing adept at keeping a proverbial ear to the ground — but how adept? That’s what I intend to find out through my current market research efforts.
In particular, my upcoming benchmark report will seek to understand the extent to which brand monitoring tools are already being deployed and what percentage of companies plan to adopt the tools over the next 12 months.
It will also seek to identify what metrics are being used to measure success as well as what lies ahead as companies strive to keep even closer tabs on consumer perception as part of their product marketing, brand intelligence and consumer insight activities.
In the context of product recommendations, trust is indeed the common glue. Consumers trust the opinions of other consumers, plain and simple, and what marketers have to say about their own brands is becoming increasingly less important than the chatter of consumers participating in online social media. However, that’s not to say marketers can’t use brand monitoring solutions to listen in on the conversations.
Jeff Zabin is a research fellow for the Aberdeen Group, where he covers customer management technology. His current research agenda focuses on such topics as brand monitoring, marketing dashboards, customer feedback management and event-triggered marketing, as well as the value of customer data management within the context of environmental waste reduction. He can be reached at [email protected].