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Making privacy a priority – why the consumer experience must have data privacy at its core

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks)

Respecting consumer privacy has become a trend epidemic with brands wanting to be at the forefront of illustrating transparency to gain consumer trust. You can read through any major news outlet and find stories about the evolving global privacy laws, and expert opinion on how and why we need to empower today’s consumer when it comes to their personal data. In today’s digital world, brands know more about a consumer through their digital appetite, without ever meeting them. But finding a way to make sense of and utilise this data is a big challenge for businesses. Take Spotify, for example. A music streaming service on the face of it, which has developed into a well-oiled model for collecting vast volumes of data based on customer preferences. It does this to drive business decisions and create tailored experiences for an audience of more than 100 million. It’s a blueprint model for both cloud-native companies and established enterprises, and proof that customer data is one of the world’s most valuable assets.

Businesses are grappling with the balancing act between data privacy, data monetisation and consumer trust. What isn’t always clear is who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that consumer data collected by a business remains private. Consumers find themselves floundering on the cusp of, even driving, a social and commercial revolution. They want tailored, personalised relationships with brands and customised experiences (which are driven primarily by their own data), but also fear their data being mishandled or misappropriated. A study by Smart Insights highlights this, with 72 per cent of consumers stating they only engage with personalised marketing messages, despite 86 per cent being concerned about data privacy.

But when consumers don’t really know where their data is going or what is being done with it, a disconnect between the brand and the consumer is created. If consumers do not understand the consent they give, the shortcomings of the techniques being used to ‘anonymise’ their data or the privacy notices they click past, are they really making a proactive, informed choice about releasing and sharing their information?

It’s not that consumers don’t care about their data: recent research found that 65 per cent of consumers are concerned with the way their data is collected. What consumers need is peace of mind and a level of ‘digital trust’ being built – this is widely regarded as a key advantage in the commercial world. However, so far nobody has decided whose responsibility it is to educate the public on exactly how their data is being protected. Many brands may appear to be saying the right things in principle but are less forthcoming about the detail. When vague and trite mantras are all they are offered, it becomes hard for consumers to trust the organisation they are dealing with. And so, consumers have little choice but to carry on being wary, even to the point of avoiding brands where they cannot easily verify the reputation for, or commitment to, privacy. There has to be a level of responsibility for ensuring data privacy. Today’s consumer has come to expect it, and they will go elsewhere if they don’t believe it’s being delivered– a recent Cisco study found 48 per cent of consumers said they have switched companies or providers because of data policies that don’t adhere to the levels of privacy they now expect.

Who should be responsible for data privacy?

In many organisations, the responsibility for data protection and associated legal compliance is given to IT, legal or privacy teams. But these teams are not front of house and rarely interact with consumers and are therefore traditionally not seen as impacting or being responsible for brand value or credibility. The problem worsens if the team with responsibility for data protection has little understanding of, and/or interaction with, the marketing team who typically are the custodians of the brand and resulting consumer experience.

This situation can give marketers sleepless nights: their effectiveness is increasingly reliant on high volumes of accurate data for deep analytics and listening, but they can’t get good data without consumers’ trust. While brands need data to understand more about their consumers, ensuring privacy and transparency are key considerations when building consumer loyalty. Marketers can’t build lasting, reciprocal relationships with consumers (and consequently, can’t build meaningful predictive datasets) without that loyalty and trust.

With this in mind, marketers must take the reins on this issue and use their position to educate and speak confidently to customers about their brand’s adherence to data protection laws and commitment to best practice in data privacy. They need customers to feel comfortable with the way their data is being collected, without the worry that others have access to it, or indeed that it could be exploited and sold for commercial gain without consumers agreeing to it.

Data privacy should now be at the heart of brand management

Marketers must take the lead role in planning, strategizing and guiding the responsible use of data within their organisation and champion the privacy-centric consumer experience. Given they are now on the frontline, CMOs must instigate collaboration with CIOs and CDOs, to ensure privacy considerations are deeply embedded into business strategies to ensure all are aligned in consumer trust and delivering a model that puts privacy first. In a world where brands increasingly rely on data to innovate and grow, consumer trust and data privacy are too important for marketers to ignore when brand reputation can so easily be damaged beyond repair.

So, what do marketers need to know?

Data privacy is crucial and transparency is critical

Above all, consumers want their data kept private. And there is strong evidence they favour brands who can assure them of this: a recent study shows GDPR-compliant companies outperform their competition across a range of metrics. Thus, the ability to assure consumers of data privacy can be a commercial advantage, with transparency winning their hearts and minds.

Part of gaining this advantage is embracing privacy-enhancing practices and technologies, such as anonymisation.  But this needs to be done the right way – or it will boomerang back and harm the company’s brand. 

Many companies say they anonymise customer data in order to comply with GDPR and similar data protection laws, but recent academic research demonstrated how easy it is to re-identify an individual from a so-called “anonymised” dataset. The frequent misuse of the term ‘anonymisation’ is something both companies and consumers should be aware of. A better approach would be to have a separate expert organisation independently carry out the anonymisation and only release aggregate insights.

Marketers need to understand the value of genuine data privacy

Marketers know the value of data that is securely anonymised in this way – and they know it better than IT or legal ever could, because they interact with consumers. Marketers understand that only rigorous, proven, data anonymisation lets them build long-term digital trust with customers and reap the benefits. Taking this one step further, marketers should be seen as the ‘ambassador’ of their consumers’ privacy, with the promise of a reciprocal relationship – a ‘you trust us with your data, and we’ll not only look after it, but provide you with a tailored experience’ relationship. This relationship, which can be built on privacy-enhanced analytics, will further cement the value of the marketing team to the business, and ensure they remain integral to the growth and vision of the organisation.

True anonymisation gives marketers access to extensive, coherent and historic data that can be built upon each day without ever breaching consumers’ trust. In today’s business world, that has a value beyond words. It is also more than enough reason to put data privacy matters into the hand of marketers and empower them to be the true custodians of the brand experience.

Shallu Behar-Sheehan, Chief Marketing Officer, Truata

Shallu Behar-Sheehan, Chief Marketing Officer at Truata.