Apologies for this because it may sound a bit buzzword-y up front, but the entire mobile marketing ecosystem runs on user trust.

You probably knew that, but let’s explore a little bit further. Here’s a good place to start: individuals report spending 25% or more of their time on mobile, yet at most organizations, mobile advertising is around a 10-12% spend. That seems to be a disconnect: mobile is where 1 in every 4 minutes are being spent, but only getting a dime of every ad spend dollar?

The main reason on the firm/organization side seems to be: “Well, mobile is not a direct revenue channel. It doesn’t immediately trigger purchase.” For the time being, we can gloss over the fallacies of that assumption. Mobile is actually close to a $3 trillion industry overall. But let’s pass Go and come back to that.

If you think mobile advertising isn’t effective, one of the core problems is user trust. Even though we live in a data-connected world, the effectiveness of that data is sometimes questionable. As a result, mobile messages are sent to customers with little to no relevance or context for the customer. At that point, the message is simply an interruption to their mobile experience. User trust has dropped.

Personalized user experiences require trust

People spend a lot of time on their phones (see above). They want that time, and those experiences, to be relevant to them. Have you ever been on Instagram, not had a cat, and gotten ads targeted to people with cats? This happens to me more frequently than you’d think. Do you think I’m feeling high sensations of user trust in that moment? No. I’m thinking someone at that cat toy company doesn’t know how to target ads.


Impersonal marketing leads to distrustful, unengaged users. (And former users.)

AdAge even mentioned this last year: “Marketers are failing to create trust, value in mobile marketing.” This part stood out:

Mary Clark, chief marketing officer at Syniverse, said her company recently conducted a study of consumers in eight countries and discovered that half of those polled trust their mobile operators and brands less than they did three years ago. The three biggest concerns, she said, were security, transparency and control. In other words, people don’t think their information on mobile is very secure and they don’t trust how it is being used. “It’s the biggest gap we’ve got to cross to have successful mobile engagement,” she said.

We know mobile users want–we can even say demand–personalized experiences. But they won’t sacrifice their sense of trust to have them. They’ll find a brand who can give them both instead.

Trust and security

Security is definitely a concern for mobile; it’s one of the reasons why mobile payment adoption has been slower than expected, for example. 60 Minutes even did a feature last year on how easy it is for strangers to hack into your phone.

Jerry Seinfeld has a joke that goes something like this: “If your phone battery dies, and your phone is dead, are you even alive?” (Gong sound.) While maybe a little much, many people do equate their phone with their life — and that means personal context, i.e. bank information and intimate text/photos, is on there. People in general want to make sure that’s secure. On their end, trust is an expectation.

But if a mobile marketing strategy involves unwanted emailing, out-of-context ads, and irrelevant push notifications, user trust is not there.

How can mobile marketers build trust?

A good place to start is the research of Paul Zak, who focuses often on the neuroscience of trust. Some of his work is summarized in a recent article on the science of trust in the workplace, and this part applies to mobile marketing (even though it’s not about mobile on face):

The best precursor to communication is to give people autonomy over their work. It sounds counterintuitive, but it shows employees that their managers trust them, and this sign of trust in the workplace also helps to keep people happy at work.

While that quote is about employee retention, the top part — “give people autonomy over their work” — is crucial to mobile marketing strategy.

You need to engender user trust by transparently explaining to your users:

  • What’s happening with their data
  • What you’re going to serve (and why)
  • How they can change their options/preferences.

Trust is closely associated with the idea of reputation, and reputation is often built by consistent behaviors and openness/transparency.

Mobile marketing should be no different. Yes, ultimately you’re trying to sell something to someone. We all understand the end game. That’s why your app onboarding is a huge opportunity for mobile marketers. It’s your chance to build trust with your newest app users, and help them understand how your app uses their data–and why that’s ultimately good for them.

The Bottom Line

If you want your mobile marketing strategy to succeed, it’s not really about spreadsheets and road maps and launch dates. Those are important, but they’re not the bedrock.

The bedrock is making sure you establish user trust around security, how you communicate, where their data goes, and your overall end game. Be transparent and respectful of them even if some announcements are scary or less-than-stellar. This is how you build relationships and thus trust.

What else would you add about user trust in mobile marketing?