data, coding

Shallu Behar-Sheehan, Chief Marketing Officer at Trūata

Data privacy has never been a more important issue for consumers. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the topic into the spotlight, with constant questions over track and trace practices, and confusion about collecting and storing citizen data.

Globally, the evolving privacy laws now dictate how and why brands must protect today’s consumer when it comes to personal data. Brands increasingly know more about their audiences through their digital appetite, often without ever meeting them. However, finding a way to make sense of, and utilise, the data that can be collected through their customers’ digital footprints, while adhering to laws and regulations, has become a big challenge.

For example, Spotify is known as a music streaming service which has now developed into a successful model for collecting vast amounts of consumer data based on their preferences. This helps Spotify to drive business decisions as well as create unique and tailored experiences for an audience of more than 180 million users, including 83 million subscribers across 65 markets. This business model is a blueprint, both for cloud-native companies and established enterprises, and highlights how, transactional personal data is one of the world’s most valuable assets.

Balancing monetisation and trust

The balance between data privacy, data monetisation and consumer trust is a complex one to find. It can be challenging to understand exactly where the responsibility lies for ensuring that the personal data collected by a business is kept private.

Consumers desire a personal relationship with brands and a customised experience (driven primarily by their own data), but at the same time, don’t want to risk their data being mishandled or misappropriated. In fact, our recent Global Consumer State of Mind Report has revealed that 61% of global consumers said they would stop using brands if they ‘stalked’ them online with too many personalised offers. They want the unique experience they desire but not at the expense of their privacy, and 77% believe they should own their ‘digital selves’.

The main issue is consumers aren’t really sure where their data is going or what is being done with it. Consequently, we’re seeing a disconnect between the brand and its consumer. When consumers don’t understand the consent they give, the shortcomings of the techniques being used to ‘anonymize’ their data aren’t always evident. All too often customers have become accustomed to clicking past mechanics such as privacy notices, without really making a proactive, and more importantly, informed choice about sharing very personal and private information?

It’s not that the public don’t care about their data as recent research has revealed that 65% of consumers are concerned with the way their data is collected. What they expect is peace of mind that a level of ‘digital trust’ has been built – and this is currently where there is a disconnect. Our report shows that if trust isn’t established with a brand, 77% of consumers would take their own steps to reduce their digital footprint. However, brands that behave ethically and transparently with data will be able to win this trust, with 66% of people  being more likely to be loyal to a brand if they trust them to use their personal data appropriately.

Issues over data responsibility

One of the key problems that surrounds the use of personal data is responsibility – responsibility for whose role it is to educate the public on exactly how their data is being collected. While some brands may say the right things in principle, they are less forthcoming in detail which can only create confusion and more distrust.

When vague and trite mantras are all that is being offered, consumers find it hard to trust the organisations they are dealing with. In fact,  62%  state they will continue to use companies who are open when explaining what they do with the data they hold. However, with many brands and companies shying away from doing this, consumers have little choice but to carry on being wary – even to the point of avoiding brands where they can’t easily verify the reputation for privacy.

Who should be held responsible?

The responsibility for data protection and compliance is often given to IT, legal or privacy teams, even though they are not front of house and rarely interact with consumers. Therefore, traditionally these teams are not viewed as impacting or being responsible for brand value. The problem worsens if the team with responsibility for data protection has little interaction with the marketing team who are responsible for delivering the brand experience.

While brands need data to understand more about their consumers, ensuring privacy and transparency are key considerations for building and maintaining loyalty. Marketers can’t build lasting, reciprocal relationships, and consequently, can’t build meaningful predictive datasets without that loyalty and trust.

When marketers take the reins and use their position to educate and communicate clearly and confidently with consumers about their brand’s adherence to data protection laws, consumers will regain confidence in the brand’s commitment to data privacy best practice. Ensuring consumers feel comfortable with the way their data is being used will make it easier for brands to collect more data in the future in order to achieve valuable insights. Consumers must be sure that third parties do not have access to their data and that it is protected from being exploited or sold for commercial gain without their agreement.

Data privacy: the heart of brand management DNA

Marketers must take the lead role in planning, strategising and guiding the responsible use of data within their organisations and champion a privacy-centric consumer experience. Given they are on the frontline, CMOs must instigate collaboration with CIOs and CDOs, to ensure privacy considerations are deeply embedded into business strategies. This will 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, 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 and transparency are crucial in the new trust economy

Understandably, consumers want to keep their personal data private. If brands can assure them of this, then they are likely to be more successful. In fact, 64% of global consumers agree they would engage with brands that make it easy for them to control how their data is used. Today, trust is regarded as a highly valuable currency with transparency being a key factor in how consumers interact with brands. Without an understanding of the trust economy, businesses simply will not survive.

Another recent study shows that GDPR-compliant companies outperform their competition across a range of metrics. Thus, the ability to assure consumers of data privacy can provide a commercial advantage, with transparency winning hearts and minds. By embracing privacy-enhancing practices and technologies, such as anonymization, brands will stand to profit. However, this must be done in the right way, otherwise they risk it backfiring and harming the company’s reputation.

Many companies say they anonymize consumer 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 “anonymized” dataset. The frequent misuse of the term ‘anonymization’ is something both companies and consumers should be aware of. A better and more robust approach would be to have a separate expert organisation independently carry out the anonymization and only release aggregate insights.

The value of genuine data privacy

Marketers know the value of data that is securely anonymized. As they interact with consumers more than IT or legal teams, they understand this better than anyone else in the company. Marketers recognise that only rigorous, proven, data anonymization lets them build long-term digital trust with consumers. They are also aware of the “digital creep” label that is associated with brands who misuse consumer data to deliver a personalised experience. This is likely to turn consumers away from their brands, our research shows that 45% of consumers say data tracking for personalisation is invasive, 32% even go as far to say it’s creepy, and 24% say sinister.

As marketers have this understanding and can relate with consumer desires, they need to establish a reciprocal relationship with them. A ‘you trust us with your data, and we’ll not only look after it, but provide you with a valued tailored experience’ model. Building this relationship on privacy-enhanced analytics, will highlight the value of the marketing team to the business, ensuring they remain integral to the growth and vision of the organisation. We know that data is such a powerful commodity, and it’s now time for organisations to put data privacy matters into the hands of marketers and empower them to be the true custodians of their consumers’ privacy, and the overall brand experience.

About the author

Shallu Behar-SheehanShallu Behar-Sheehan is an accomplished international marketer with over 25 years’ experience in creating and delivering integrated strategic revenue generating marketing initiatives across the UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia (EMEAR), North America and Asia Pacific (APAC). Acknowledged as one of the Top 20 Women in Tech by B2B Marketing and one of the 100 Most Influential B2B Technology Marketers in Europe by the prominent online tech community Hot Topics, Shallu has helped technology organisations significantly raise their brand profile in highly competitive environments. As an innovative and award winning leader, Shallu has proven team management skills and a strong track record of spearheading industry leading campaigns against aggressive business targets, which deliver timely and impactful returns on investment.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTechWomen has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here