Privacy and the Duality of Data in the Digital Era

By Patrick Hanavan  | 

Consumers are aware that their personal information is valuable currency in today’s world and, as study after study, year after year after year shows, it’s one they’re willing to use to secure convenience, cost savings and more personalized service. While it seems that some consumers are willing to share their information at the drop of a discount, it is not an exchange that should be taken lightly by marketers. Recent concerns about what happens with the personal data used to fuel lifestyle technologies like in-home digital assistants and out-of-home geotargeting, has media and consumers alike wondering anew about the line between convenience and creepy and what’s expedient vs what’s exploitive.

This is the duality of data in the digital era. Both the benefits and the risks of personal data collection and use are amplified in the current environment. Most marketers understand that they are operating in a trust economy when it comes to the exchange of personal data for personalized advantages. Here’s our rundown on a few steps marketers can take to maintain consumers’ faith in them in a post-Cambridge Analytica and pre-GDPR world.

Participate in the Value Exchange
In the old days, the give and take between marketers and consumers was relatively straightforward. Consumers gave an email address and got free Wi-Fi at the airport or populated a bare bones profile to ease log-ins at favored websites. But as technology becomes more integrated into our lives and marketers drill deeper into personal preferences in order to guide more precise targeting, consumers are increasingly asking for better clarity around the incentives for their participation. It’s not just about their concerns for the security of their information—which 61% of US adults do worry about according to Deloitte—but also about upping the ante. A recent Adweek article cited research by NYU business professor Anindya Ghose who noted that while 75% of study participants were willing to share intimate data, they’ll only do so if the firms have a product or service they value. CNBC commentator Peter Bell put it more bluntly when he asserted “In the abstract, general form, people will not want to see their data used. But in the specific, in where they can see the value, they will be more comfortable with [marketers] having access to that information.”

The take-away is that as consumers become increasingly savvy about the value of their information, marketers need to put more emphasis on clearly and definitively articulating the value proposition of engaging in the sharing contract. Which leads to the next point.

Transparency Is a Marketer’s Stock-In-Trade
Five years ago, Nordstrom proved itself ahead of its time by implementing a Wi-Fi-based geolocation tracking system to monitor customers’ whereabouts so they could identify high-traffic areas and assign sales staff accordingly. As CNBC described it, Nordstrom’s idea was a brilliant use of existing technology that benefitted both shoppers and marketers and one that has since been copied by countless other retailers. But its strategy was deemed a failure at the time due simply to the fact that Nordstrom’s failed to disclose to its customers what it was doing. In other words, it’s not good enough for a brand to tell customers what they’re getting in return for their information, but also how and why their data is ultimately being used.

In fact, a survey of 8,500 conducted last year by Deloitte found that consumers, while concerned about security and privacy, are willing to provide their personal information if companies are transparent about how they intend to use consumer data, allow consumers to easily opt out of data sharing and provide brief and readily understandable privacy policies and agreements. For today’s marketers, the conclusion is simple: transparency is always the best policy.

Great Content Is More Important Than Ever
Finally, as a recent article from CMS Wire makes clear, if consumers are going to go to the trouble of providing personal data, marketers can take care to provide engaging, relevant content that matters to the audience receiving it. Noting that today’s consumers suffer from content “shock” and advises marketers to address this by ensuring the content they provide delivers value to the consumer—not just the marketer.

Ultimately, companies that can offer their customers greater peace of mind when it comes to how they’re using private information, along with an undeniable value proposition will bolster both their brand value and their customer base.

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