16 July 2020

Trust Used To Be Worth Something

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The company that I would like to start — or at least patronize — sells trust.

That's its product. It gives you a good feeling. It reassures. It lets you rely on it. It overcompensates for your anxiety. It leaves little room for doubt.

Trust was, at a certain point in consumer history, what most successful brands were selling. Trust was the ultimate scalable asset — once you established it, you could keep producing it at no further cost. Some brands could even extend their own trust levels to other products. Famously, the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval, a marketing brainstorm if there ever was one, let you feel good about anything with its imprimatur.

Now, most major brands have implicit trust problems, to say the least. Most are on a terrible treadmill, having to grow ever faster to make up for their constant loss of public trust.

The other day, The New York Times ran a story about Amazon's efforts to purge its user reviews of untrustworthy reviewers — members of an author's family, for instance. This naturally gave way to a larger issue of trust: How does Amazon know who's related to whom?

Would you trust Amazon? Do you trust any company whose main mission is to collect your data? You might acquiesce to it, but do you trust it — or anyone whose central activity is to keep tabs on you? Google, founded on a do-gooder credo, is now the leviathan of data collection and opacity.

And the entire financial industry? That trust, once the very essence of its business, is certainly gone.

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