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Market Caps and Ethics Scraps: Brands in Motion 2018

— Alan VanderMolen, Former President, International & WE+ 

One trillion dollars. The last 30 days has seen two technology companies – Apple and Amazon – top that unprecedented market cap in the United States. One would think that would create a landslide of investor confidence and a frenzied demand by consumers and enterprise customers alike to keep pushing for technology-fueled innovation.

A funny thing is happening on the way to market, however. Despite the European Union’s GDPR regulations and similar efforts across the globe to protect consumer data, 84 percent of consumers we surveyed across 8 markets in our Brands in Motion 2018 study say they fear their data is not secure. Ask British Airways customers who bought tickets online from the carrier in the UK how they feel about that.

Other technology-related fears are underscored by 77 percent of our global respondents believing hackers may shut down their power grids, 67 percent fearing they could be run over by an autonomously-driven vehicle, 54 percent fearing that AI and machine learning could eliminate their jobs; and, my personal favourite, 63 percent fearing their phone is listening to them.

Are technology companies and innovative brands facing a mounting Luddite revolt? Not anytime soon.

Our study also shows that the exponential expectations from customers – driven by the mobile web, the cloud and AI – continue unabated. Customers expect brands to use technology to provide easier access to products and services (52 percent), to develop new products and services (49 percent) and to customise their experiences (47 percent).

There is, however, a catch: An astounding 97 percent of our respondents say they now hold brands responsible for the ethical use of technology. Further, 94 percent of respondents say that if industry and brands do not effectively self-regulate the use of technology, they will call upon governments to provide that regulation. Considering the clumsy questioning of technology executives conducted by elected officials over the past year or so, the threat of further government regulation should act as a warning bell for companies and brands that are driving innovation.

If evidence of a threat of backlash to technology companies beyond regulation is needed, look no further than WE’s Motion Matrix. Our matrix charts the average scores of emotional and rational drivers of motion for 8 industry sectors and 90 brands. The two technology sectors we track – computing devices and enterprise technology – both saw a decrease in positive scores and a downward placement in our matrix. This says to me that the traditional tech halo applied to companies in this sector is showing signs of tarnish. It further says that brands that are attempting to borrow that halo to benefit standing in financial markets and with customers, should proceed with more caution than has been traditionally required.

Innovation – both powered by and inspired by technology – has too many societal and commercial benefits to slow down. That said, however, our study proves it is clearly time to pause and consider an ethical and responsible framework for the use of technology that ensures the benefits continue to far outweigh the threats.