This Valentine's Day: 'Honey, do you trust me?'

"Yes, my love... almost as much I trust Amazon.com.""

This Valentine’s Day, according to research by Huge, 58% of Americans trust Amazon to act responsibly with their personal information — statistically matching their trust in their spouse or partner (56%). In our relationship milestones, sharing Prime is the new joint checking account. If you’re wondering how "until death do us part" found itself tied with "free two-day shipping" as a value proposition, then let’s have a little talk about privacy and ethics in 2019.

Today our trust is depleted in all kinds of institutions which traditionally safeguard our secrets and sensitive data. Just 25% of us trust the U.S. government to respect our personal information, and 51% of us trust our pharmacies. Only doctors and banks are held in confidence by two-thirds of Americans to keep their information secure. Amazon is alone among brands in challenging them for supremacy in discretion. What differentiates them from other leading technology companies is instructive to all brands who want to develop direct relationships with their customers.

First, it’s easier for a brand to draw attention and aspiration than achieve respect and trust. "Product-centric" brands struggle to develop trusted status, while service and experience brands naturally lean into more permanent, mutual relationships. For example, despite selling more phones than any other company in America, only 17% of U.S. adults trust Samsung with their personal data. That’s tied with Facebook, an experience brand which has endured more negative press coverage on their privacy practices than… well, anyone. Apple and Google are head-to-head in the mid-to-upper 30s, with a mix of products and digital-only services, but a majority of Americans don’t view them as worthy stewards of our most personal information.

What makes Amazon special is that, like our human Valentine’s dates, we invite them into the physical space of our home with our daily interactions. With every ring of the doorbell and every conversation with Alexa, we cross a rapidly blurring line between the ubiquity of the digital and the intimacy of the physical. We do not associate each interaction or transaction with a loss of privacy; rather we incrementally accept its permanence in our lives.

But with great trust comes responsibility, and Americans’ love for Amazon may be about to collide with Amazon’s years of investment to observe what we’re feeling, as much as what we’re spending. Only 33% of U.S. adults are ready for our conversational agents, like Alexa, to read emotion into our voices, compared to 48% who see value in our mobile phones sensing our IRL emojis. Amazon is also partnering with retailers and government agencies to recognize our faces in stores and public places. This exposes them to a kind of scrutiny quite different from a life previously confined to our shopping lists and video streams. So like any relationship, ours with Amazon may become more complicated or strained as we become more aware and empowered in our rights to individual privacy and respect in the future.

But this year, there are some practical things your brand can do to learn from Amazon’s relationship magic and avoid potential mistakes.

  • First, understand what drives the value exchange around personal information for your customers. Don’t rely only on discounts and promotions when customers also place a high value on service benefits, samples, and improved convenience. Establish a relationship based in mutual respect rather than cheap thrills.

  • Minimize the amount of data you request from your customers, and how often you ask. Understand that each time, you will have to re-establish the value exchange (see above). Be transparent about why you’re asking, what you plan to do with the data, and direct benefits to the customer.

  • Treat data privacy and ethics as a new kind of brand equity. Trust is no longer just about the quality of the product or service delivered -- increasingly it’s about the customer data which is exchanged.

In a world where many brands are brief "friends with benefits" in our consumer lives, this Valentines day, demonstrate that a customer relationship is build on a foundation of mutual respect and shared interests. That’s a year-round customer journey, which provides a lifetime of value.

Michael Horn is the chief data officer for Huge's data science and analytics offering.

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