The CMO Show:
The CMO Show: Rachel Botsman...

Trust: it’s a lucrative and aspirational factor in brand storytelling, but all too often we fail to understand its true meaning – or value.

When it comes to making informed decisions, consumers are increasingly driven by trust – the value which strikes at the very core of how products and services are being accessed, delivered and evaluated.

In this episode of The CMO Show, Rachel Botsman drops by to shed light on the role of trust in building your brand, and how the collaborative economy is driving this. An author, teacher, speaker and recognised authority on the role of trust in the collaborative economy, Botsman has a passion for understanding human behaviour and the reasons we trust companies, ideas, and each other, as much as we do.

“I can tell you the one thing not to do, which is to say, ‘You should trust this bank’. Although that is a tagline believe it or not,” says Botsman. “There’s this notion that if you say it, people will believe you and there is something really important in that.”

“Now, with platforms where you have a producer and consumer, you can no longer control that relationship. So getting millions of people that this company doesn’t employ and doesn’t control behaving on brand, or delivering a quality product or service, involves a whole new way of thinking about marketing and design.”

Tune in as Mark Jones and JV Douglas chat to Botsman about the future of the collaborative economy, building a trusted brand, and thinking about the bigger picture.

Listen to the podcast below and subscribe on iTunes and SoundCloud.




The CMO Show production team

Producer – Megan Wright

Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee

Design Manager – Daniel Marr

Graphic Designer – Mitchell Marr

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you:



Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Mark Jones (MJ)
Rachel Botsman (RB)

JVD:        Welcome to the CMO Show, we’re here with Rachel Botsman, she is an author, teacher, speaker, and she’s a recognised authority on the role of trust in the collaborative economy. Rachel, welcome to the CMO Show.

RB: Hi, Nice to be here.

MJ:    Actually, Rachel, I wanted to dive in straight off the bat, and see if I can get you to tell us a story, because I heard you speak at Adobe’s symposium event I think it might have been last year, and you told this fascinating story about Airbnb, and you apparently had known the founders of that organisation from the very beginning, and you told a story about your husband and yourself.  You had this conversation, “Should we invest in this company?” I think he said, “No,” and it was the worst decision you ever made.  Is that right?  What happened there?

RB: He hates this story, he really does.  ‘m like, “I only tell it to about a thousand people.  It’s okay.” So I met the founders of Airbnb in 2008, Brian and Joe, and I came back from this trip, it was when I was researching my first book, and I said to my husband, “I think I’ve met the next Facebook or eBay.” And he said, “Well, what does this company do?” And I said, “Well, they let anyone from around the world rent out their room, and then strangers who they don’t know, they book this room and they come and stay with them.”  And this was the time when Airbnb, you know, the hosts had to be there.  It was a different phase of Airbnb. And he basically, he’s a barrister and he asked me various questions as barristers do, and I said, “Look, I think we should invest in them because they have no money, and they’re, you know, they’re about to go under, but I really believe in these founders and this idea.” And he basically said, “This is the worst idea ever.  You know, first of all, no one’s going to do it, and how on earth are strangers going to trust one another?  This isn’t eBay, you know, not buying things online.  This is people meeting up in the real world.” Which was very valid.  And the reason why I love the story, is not because we could have been billionaires.

MJ:    Which you could have.

RB: We could have. Because the company is now worth $22.6 billion.

RB: But it’s because what he hit on was exactly right and very profound and in a very short space of time, so, you know, around eight years, how technology has changed trust and really transformed behaviours that weren’t just perceived as risky, but downright stupid, into normal ways to travel, I think is absolutely extraordinary. And I share the story with the audience, because it gets to the heart of my work how technology is changing trust and that then forms behaviours that then can disrupt and reorganise industries.

JVD:        See, this is what’s really interesting.  All of these companies, your Airbnbs, and your Ubers and your, they’ve all kind of tapped into this notion about collaboration, about trust, they’re making an offering to the public, to consumers, that traditional companies haven’t been able to make.  And I guess, what I’m interested in is, how should traditional marketing departments and traditional marketers respond in terms of their messaging to this disruption?  How can they find ways to integrate similar messaging or integrate similar offerings into what they do?

RB: Yeah, well, I can tell you the one thing not to do. Just to say, “You should trust this bank.”  

RB: Which is a tagline believe it or not.  This notion that if you say it, people will believe you and there is something really important in that.  

Those days are over, and I think, you know, a lot of marketing is still focused around curating and controlling the conversation through social media, and people have moved one step on, which is that they are starting to judge companies by collective experience: what they know to be true, or what they hear from their peers, and that really involves completely rethinking both how people, the relationship people have with your company and how they trust them.

RB: Now, platforms where you have a producer and consumer, you can no longer control that relationship. So how you get millions of people that this company doesn’t employ and doesn’t control behaving on brand, or delivering a quality product or service, involves a whole new way of thinking about marketing and design.

JVD:        Is it fundamentally that it now no longer matters what we say, it matters what we do as brands?

RB: Exactly, exactly. It’s not what I think to be true, it’s what I know to be true.  So this is…  I wouldn’t want to be a CMO if I’m honest, because I think not only is their role being completely redefined in organisations, but the responsibility they have to manage that customer relationship, is being transformed.

MJ:    I still feel though, there’s this dilemma because we decide amongst ourselves what we think this brand or this idea represents.

MJ:    And yet there is still, if you like, a latent demand for leadership and clarity, so where does that come from?  Does it mean that we now look to community leaders in a different way?  

RB: See, you’ve asked a brilliant question, I’m not just saying that.

RB: Because this is the myth, this is one of the myths or misperceptions at the moment, that in these, I call it distributed trust, so in these systems of distributed trust, you don’t need leadership or you don’t need any kind of, you know, when trust exists within these communities you don’t need any central repositories or trust.  That isn’t true, and it’s not true for two reasons.  One, is when trust breaks down or something goes wrong, people will always look to a leader or a company…

RB: …or someone else to resolve it.  

And then the second thing is that, it is human nature to want to find these, you know, these central repositories of trust. And in my opinion, that’s a huge opportunity for business because you see businesses rising up and growing extremely fast, are the ones filling that kind of void, where they’re saying, you know, I’m going to behave in a totally transparent way, and what you expect from me is what I’m going to do and if I disappoint you, I will make this up to you.

MJ:    And I think that’s a profound thing for marketers to get their heads around.  This idea that we have to shift the way that we think about it in terms of the marketing engagement with the business and the consumer.  I also get the sense that within that context, it’s become a bit of an echo-chamber than when we talk about disruption and the change you have to make and what the business needs to do now.  

MJ:    The thing that’s really sparked my interest has been obviously the federal election that we’ve just gone through, and you see this at a voting level in terms of people who might be in regional areas of Australia, are reacting against this imposed sense of disruption and change.  Now, obviously that has to happen, but, in terms, you know, the world is going to keep changing and people will always struggle with that, and have to change and move with the times.  But what do you think about this idea that we’ve really only talked about disruption from an industry perspective.  We’ve not effectively engaged consumers in that journey to say what’s in it for you as you move into a different economy and a different way of participation.

RB: Yeah.  I mean I think there’s something really interesting in the question and that’s do consumers even listen to companies when they ask that question or do they just decide for themselves?  So it’s interesting you point to political references because our recent election, Brexit, you know, Trump, the election in the US.  This is all symptomatic of the shift, where trust used to be in these top-down authorities, where you could control what was said and people would listen and that’s being turned on its head. You know, trust now moves sideways, where people are more influenced by their peers versus what a brand or a politician or someone in power says to them.  So I think where that leads to is, is you can tell me to believe this, or you can tell me to believe this, or you can tell me that this is good for me, but I’m going to look at another piece of information or I’m going to decide for myself.

JVD:        Rachel, I’m fascinated too how you came from sort of a background with a fine arts degree to come, to get such a deep sense of the impact technology trends have on us, at a human level.  When was your ‘Aha’ moment when you started, I guess, connecting up the dots between what is happening at that technological level, and what we’re actually responding to as human beings?

RB: It’s a very messy journey, or I should say, it’s a journey with many twists.  I think about this a lot and I think one of the things I learnt from studying art, is you really get quite fascinated by how human beings connect two things.  And then I just had a very lucky sort of first ten years of my career where I immersed myself in very different fields.  So I worked for President Clinton, so I was immersed in the world of politics.  I was a teaching assistant at Harvard in the Kennedy school, so, you know, another sort of academic lens on it.  Then I became a brand consultant, which is a crazy decision, but I learnt a lot about the sort of inner workings of marketing departments.  And so I think I’ve always been someone that’s like, “Let’s try and put all these threads together, and paint a clear picture.”

JVD:        What is your fundamental message around trust at the moment?  What are you focussing in on?

RB: My research at the moment is focussing on how technology is changing the social glue of trust between people and I’m – identifying things that we have no idea about, so do men and women trust differently in digital environments?  Does trust transfer?  So if you use Tinder, I don’t know if you do, or Bumble or whatever, if you find a mate through digital apps, are you more likely to be someone that trusts an early adopter of Airbnb and Uber?  Is the tools we use to build trust to face – face-to-face, do they even work in the online world?  So like I try and find these big questions that I think are really important to understand and then design and research around those.

MJ:    I think, when we try and unpack the concept of trust, it seems to me like this, I don’t know how this is going to move forward in the future, but we’re expecting the companies and the organisations that create a trust space, and I’m talking about the collaborative style businesses here, they create this space or this ecosystem in which interactions happen.  We’re also expecting those people to participate and be consumers of the same thing they’ve created.

MJ:    I wonder how you see that changing and growing and shaping over time?

RB: Yes.  So, and what you’re pointing to, is again, is – is people are flipping from, “Oh, I’m a provider,” “Oh, I am a customer,” “Oh, I’m a customer now,” “Now, I’m a provider,” and sometimes they do the same thing with the same company, right?  So I’m a host and a guest.  And that’s really interesting in the sense that, do you have more empathy for the other side of the market?  Do you understand,  have a deeper understanding of what people really want?

I think also, what we’re just starting to understand, is how technology can be used to reduce the unknowns.  So Airbnb have this wonderful equation where they say, “Disappointment equals expectations minus reality.”  So and what technology can do is actually reduce that gap.  So how do you design profiles where people are really honest, and one way they’ve started to do that, is they’ve actually given people a prompt saying, “I want you to say two things that people love about your property, but I want you to write one thing that people don’t actually like, you know, so it’s on a noisy street, or there’s a cat next door that comes in or we have a possum that poops in the garden.”

JVD:        How do you work around the people that are just nice about everybody?  Because, I don’t think I’ve ever got out of an Uber and given them a bad rap.

RB: Oh, no.  My husband hates when I, he’s like, “Oh dear, you don’t need to help them, or tell them about the insurance policy, or like be their counsellor.”  But you raise a really good point which is one of the things, actually I don’t want to sound evangelical, because there are real downsides to this.  And one of them is is constant monitoring.  Right?  There are times when I actually don’t take an Uber because I don’t want a chirpy conversation, and I don’t want to be judged because I have to have a really tough conversation with someone and that is a real worry to me is that, if we’re constantly rated and reviewed, and a transactional culture just goes away, how will we cope with that kind of social pressure?

MJ:    Yeah, and I guess in that dynamic too and I’ve been there, in the Uber world, where I just don’t want to talk right now, it’s almost like you have to say to your driver, “Hey, great.  Thank you for picking up.  This is awesome.  Do you mind if I just sit quietly for a while?  I’ve got to think through…”  It’s almost like you need permission to be yourself for a minute.

MJ:    To what degree do you think companies will need to be increasingly mindful of that social dynamic?  Of the social responsibilities and obligations they have to people. So there’s the disruption aspect of it, but also this customer experience thing which is really what we’re speaking about, how mindful will they need to be about that entire social dynamic, in order to be successful?  Because it seems to me that, unless you can really have the emotional intelligence to play effectively in that space, you’re just not going to succeed.

RB: I completely agree and it’s an interesting way of thinking of, you know, is it sort of a social intelligence now that we attach to brands?  And you know, I always say to – you know, the companies it’s like, “Oh, we come up with five values, and we’re done” right?   If you’re going to say you’re a transparent organisation, make sure you have nothing to hide, because that’s what it really means to be transparent.  So when you’re saying your brand stands for something, it’s more than…  I can’t even, I’m not articulating this very well.  But it’s more than follow through, it’s thinking about what that means at the all different stages of the journey.  So when the person is just getting comfortable hearing about your company for the first time, you’re building trust right?  And then when they start using your service, you’re – you’re managing that relationship.  And then when something goes long – wrong, you’ve lost trust, so how do marketing people think about repairing it?  I think – I actually think this journey of a built, manage, loss, and repaired, is how more marketers are going to think of their job.  And the loss and repair won’t just be sort of in the PR crisis, that something went wrong, and we send out a – a media release.

So, you know, a short way of saying this, is – is get away from channel thinking and even get away from this idea of the customer being at the centre of experience.  If I hear the word customer-centricity, that’s what companies should do, you know, like that’s just the basic given, and start to think about the emotional journey people are on with you and how that relationship is going to look like in different stages.  That’s what I think marketing is going to look like in the future.

JVD:        What strikes me about all this is, we’re talking about the digital economy and the digital disruption, but really the sense I get is it’s about the human economy.  And if it were possible for hotel chains, for example, to introduce would-be visitors to their staff so they knew who they’re going to be dealing with, and so if anything goes wrong, I’m more forgiving of someone I actually know and trust, and I know they’re going to help me out in some way.  And that’s the big difference for me going between going to stay at TravelLodge or going to stay at a big hotel chain and going to say in the Airbnb, that I actually know someone and I feel some sense of obligation towards them and  I have a sense that they feel an obligation towards me.

RB: In a genuine way that they genuinely mean it…  I couldn’t agree – and I think the hotels is a great example  because, you see the hotels responding with, “Oh, when you arrive in your room, you can have your Spotify list and Netflix up.”  Well, that’s great, but I kind of expect that now.

JVD:        Yeah.

RB: So I think often we still looking for the cosmetic solutions around personalisation and, you know, efficiency of the apps, and that is all great but it is this human essence that people are really looking for.

MJ:    Maybe it’s even called the “feeling economy.”

RB: Please, let’s not create anymore economies, every day, like the gig economy, the on-demand economy, the sharing economy, the access economy, the feeling economy.

RB: You know, this is actually a really important point though is, maybe these labels are not helpful.  You know, maybe it’s just, you know, how do you infuse this way of thinking?  

RB: I did not develop the term the sharing economy to be completely frank. [Laughter]

MJ:    Don’t get me started on that, I think it was never sharing it was always some kind of transaction anyway.

RB: That’s why I didn’t use that term.

RB: “It’s a horrible term!” I agree with you.

MJ:    It is, it’s actually incorrect.

RB: Yeah, exactly.

JVD:        Rachel thank you so much….

JVD:        for coming on the CMO Show…

JVD:        This is been an absolutely fascinating conversation and

JVD:        I’m just really delighted that we’ve been able to have you on.

MJ:    Yes, thank you.

RB: Thank you, it was really enjoyable.

21 Questions

JVD:        Now Rachel, we’ve got a really fun section and that’s “21 questions” so it’s essentially 21 quick fire questions.

RB: I’m going to take a deep breath, I think my kids have trained me for this, I’m ready.

JVD:        Yeah.  [Laughter]

MJ:    Okay, what are you grateful for?

RB: My health.

JVD:        Do you like the rain?

RB: Love it.

MJ:    In the movie of your life, who would play you?

RaB: Oh she looks nothing like me, but I just, I have a female crush on her.  Julianne Moore.

JVD:        What’s your greatest career fail?

RB: My book sold 12 copies in the first month.  And my grandma bought 6, that’s not a lie or a joke, I swear.

MJ:    It’s still a best-seller.  Beach or mountain?

Rachel: Beach.

JVD:        Best ever career advice?

RB: You’re unemployable.

MJ:    Summer or winter?

RB: Mostly summer.

MJ:    If you weren’t a philosopher, you’d be a…

RB: Gardener, easy.

JVD:        Chocolate or strawberry?

RB: Chocolate for sure.

MJ:    What did you have for breakfast?

RB: Porridge.

JVD:        What would rather have had?

RB: A big chocolate croissant.

MJ:    What was the last conversation with your parents?

RB: I just saw my mum.  The last thing she said, I was just at TED and I gave a talk and she said, “I’m really proud of you.” That was the last conversation we had.

JVD:        Scrunch or fold?

RB: What?   [Laughter]  Do you mean packing or what?

MJ:    Ah… look…

JVD:        Tends to refer toilet paper.

RB: Oh, for goodness sake, who folds?  Scrunch. [Laughter] That’s ridiculous!

MJ:    If you could change one thing about the marketing industry, what would it be?

RB: I’d ban the word disruption.

JVD:        Can you ride a bike?

RB: Really badly.  My husband banned me from putting the kids on the back.  [Laughter]

MJ:    What’s your greatest frustration?

RB: People who think they’re wise and don’t realise the power of ignorance.

JVD:        This, here speaks someone who works in academia.  [Laughs]

JVD:        Touch, taste, sight, hearing or smell.  Which would you sacrifice to save the rest?

RB: I would sacrifice smell.

MJ:    Dogs or cats.

RB: Dogs.

MJ:    If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?

RB: I named my daughter it’s so weird.  Grace, I always wanted to be Grace.

JVD:        It’s a beautiful name too.  Rachel thank you so much.

RB: It’s a pleasure.

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