Recently, Airbnb hired a new CTO -- not CTO as in chief technology officer, but as in chief trust officer. That’s right, like operations, human resources and finance, trust is becoming its own discipline, and the travel company now has its own trust team.
This begs the obvious question: Why? Why is trust suddenly so important? What’s happened to make it that way? And what do we even mean when we say “trust?”
Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the answer to all the above questions is the same: disruption.
The business theme of the decade has been that of legacy organizations being challenged by new models and technology that force re-examination of entire industry paradigms: taxis giving way to rideshares; hotels giving way to short-term rentals; cable giving way to streaming services.
But it hasn’t happened without a fight. The smarter and more tenacious of the old guard companies have quickly poured resources and efforts into adapting or expanding their models to compete with the young bucks. Marriott’s Bonvoy Tours & Activities and HBO NOW are clapbacks at their respective Airbnb and Netflix challengers, for instance.
But of course, we all know this.
What’s been going unnoticed by all but the savviest companies, however, is that the flood of attention toward keeping up with the startup Joneses leaves less attention for something pretty important: customer communication. Companies pivot. They acquire. They merge. They do all of the things which beget buzzwords. But when they do these things in a vacuum without communicating the reason or the benefit, they begin to erode trust with their customers. New offerings may satisfy new needs, but they can conflict with existing impressions and expectations. And the longer this goes unaddressed, the wider the trust gap grows.
And that’s where we all come in.
As marketers today, we must prioritize the communication of change. We must not forget that the changes in the market which prompt the changes in our organizations will change the way audiences see us. That change threatens trust, and we must protect trust because it’s the most powerful tool we have for retention. Trust is loyalty. Trust is everything.
This imperative, of course, comes in addition to our original responsibility of communicating the value of products and services to customers with needs. It’s a new responsibility because change is a new constant. It’s part of every industry in a way it hasn’t been since the Industrial Revolution. Every organization will either be initiating or reacting to change on a regular basis given the speed of technology today, and bringing customers along on that journey is essential to keeping the trust gap as narrow as possible.
So, while not every organization will be forming a trust team tomorrow, we should all be seriously considering (at least unofficially) renaming our marketing teams. Because we are now in the business of maintaining trust through the communication of change, and the work is ongoing.
It’s in the sustained demonstration that we understand our customers’ expectations that believers become advocates and skeptics become converts. It’s in erring on the side of total communication -- carried out through carefully constructed programs, mapped to every step of the change process -- that we can really define “trust.”