Memo to #CES2019: Don’t Forget About Trust!

There’s something I’m not seeing yet in the fire hydrant of pre-event buzz about the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (#CES2019): references to “consumer trust.” I hope that changes. There’s still time.

To be clear, I’m a CES junkie, and in the last few days I’ve read or skimmed thousands of news primers, video teasers, event schedule updates, and #CES2019 tweets. Honestly, I’m just not seeing “trust” on the radar — this at a time when it’s exploded (with fury) in global media this past year.

Yes, there’s a few panels on this topic (e.g. “Trust and Transparency in Advertising”), and I’m sure CES keynote speakers will give trust its due, but overall it feels marginalized.

Curiously, the two topics virtually every pundit touts in pre-CES buzz — AI and digital health — depend on rock-solid trust with consumers. Each area dramatically ups the ante for responsible use of data and user control and consent.

Most of the conversation around AI, for instance, centers around “personalizing” a user’s experience with a device, kitchen gadget, or car — or predicting what a user is seeking. How do we rebuild trust and confidence in such capabilities amidst the controversies of Facebook, Google, major hotel chains, and other stewards of data?

What CES most needs — TODAY in 2019 — is a refreshed (and humble) conversation about trust, and one that lives far beyond the show calendar. Only by doing so will we boost odds that all these amazing technologies on display will achieve their full promise with consumers?

Startups should be encouraged and incentivized to pursue solutions in this direction, something we’re attempting to do in Cincinnati where major players in consumer goods, retailing, and Fintech and Insurance tech understand the interdependency of business and trust. Let’s take all the troubling trust gaps identified in the recent Edelman Trust Barometer and crowdsource real solutions.

Time for Consumer Engagement Principles?

We should also dust-off earlier efforts that perhaps were too far ahead of their time. For example, while running Digital for Nestle, S.A., I co-chaired a committee of the Consumer Goods Forum — an industry group of manufacturers and retailers — to draft so-called “Consumer Engagement Principles” to lay a stronger foundation for trust between consumers and businesses.

We did this nearly three years before GDPR and other regulatory efforts, but most members fell short of full implementation.

Here’s what we endeavored to support around Consumer Engagement. It sounds so obvious and intuitive, but we’re a long way from making this a reality.

1. Simple Communication: Communicate in a clear, simple and easy-to-understand language.

2. Value Exchange: Inform consumers about the benefits and value that the use of their personal information provides to both businesses and consumers.

3. Transparency: Inform consumers about what we do with the personal information they provide.

4. Control and Access: Enable consumers to easily choose whether and how their personal information is used, and to have access to information on how their personal information is used, and to have the ability to correct their information and/or have it removed.

5. Ongoing Dialogue: Listen and respond to consumer feedback on the use of their personal data.

6. Protection of Personal Information: Protect the integrity, reliability and accuracy of consumers’ personal information and be open about the status of their personal information.

7. Integrity in Social Media: Preserve integrity through proper disclosure of commercial interests in social media practices such as ratings, recommendations, endorsements, and work with regulatory agencies on alignment of practices and guidelines.

Quick Wins?

The first thing we can rally around in 2019 is more intuitive, easier-to-read privacy policies. Most policies are impenetrably bureaucratic, insanely verbose (over 2000 words), and impossible to find on brand websites.

It’s almost as if we suspended common sense “consumer marketing” principles when it comes to talking about privacy. Surely this “age of innovation” can find a solution here to score points with consumers, and build trust in the process.

Again, the stakes are crazy high. At CES 2019, AI-enabled data collection, personalization, health-tracking, facial recognition, and connected devices will hit levels never before imagined.

The potential to unlock tremendous value is huge if we get this right. But if we get it wrong, if we fail to build trust at a moment when it is at all-time lows and still declining, we’ll damage relationships and undermine brilliant new technologies in ways that may take a generation to repair.

Don’t let this critical opportunity get lost in the fun, hype, swag, and parade of endless exhibits.