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Building consumer trust again, post-Cambridge Analytica

By / / In Best practice /
Sit up and take notice, says Tim Haynes – the latest news headlines surrounding alleged data misuse will mean even brands that collect and use data ethically and in good faith will struggle to persuade customers to trust them. Here’s some practical advice on building consumer trust – and how to put marketing ‘skulduggery’ firmly into the past.
building consumer trust

Most people are aware that companies harvest customer data for marketing purposes. Whether it’s through tracking behaviour online or building up customer profiles through loyalty schemes, consumers understand that organisations need to know a bit about them to be able to provide a better service.

The problem is that they don’t really think about it. The extent to which organisations have traditionally collected data has always been a bit of an unknown. Typically, brands have not been particularly open with customers, getting away with statements that appear to benefit the user, such as the promise to deliver a more personalised experience. But in reality, brands have either erred on the side of stalking, or they’ve done personalisation so badly that consumers receive marketing collateral that isn’t relevant. Let’s face it — marketing lists have become over-used through poor campaign segmentation (‘let’s just send the mail to everyone’ mentality) and even worse, a marketer’s KPI, the bigger the list the better.

Now, with the misuse of data occupying the headlines, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal very much in the spotlight, consumers are rightly becoming more worried about the way organisations collect and use their data. In short, marketing skulduggery has caused a huge data protection backlash. Brands now have an even bigger job on their hands to ease customer fears over ethical data practices. And the lack of clarity won’t cut it for much longer.

In fact, a recent Databoxer consumer survey shows that people’s faith in social media companies has plummeted — less than one in five people now trust the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn with their personal data.

The marketing industry needs to sit up and take note quickly — even those brands that collect and use data ethically. What you’re doing might all be in good faith and perfectly fine, but that in itself isn’t enough to persuade customers to trust you. Here’s some practical advice.

1. Prove you’re being responsible

At the recent Data Protection Practitioners’ Conference, one particular data protection officer (DPO) hit the nail on the head around data collection — “Is it creepy? Are you being a git?” If you’re not open with your customers about how you collect and use their data, essentially, they’ll think you’re creepy. The solution though, isn’t through sending out pages and pages of terms and conditions. Nobody wants to read that.

Instead, consider dedicating a page to your website on data collection and use, outlining exactly how you intend to keep their data safe. Keep it concise, and use plain English. After all, it’s about time for some plain speaking.

If you’ve appointed a DPO, use them at the heart of your campaign to rebuild trust, adding a human face to the process that can advocate for both the business and the consumer to communicate the responsibilities and security of each process.

2. Keep customers informed of your intent with their data

According to Databoxer research, 30% of consumers believe that by sharing their personal information online they will become a target for unwanted marketing offers or services, so they avoid divulging data if they can possibly avoid it. Clearly, brands aren’t communicating why they collect data and for what purposes. But by being open with consumers, and demonstrating how responsible you are as a business, you’ll begin to chip away at that statistic.

3. Build up customer profiles little by little

Trust is not something that consumers can just switch on — it’s something that happens over time. Which should reflect how you go about data collection in the first place. That requires an actual strategy and an end to the ‘grab all the data you can and figure out what to do with it later’ approach that landed marketers and tech companies in this mess. As you build up trust, consumers will be more willing to let you know more about them. So, don’t force it — build up customer data little by little, rather than asking them to part with everything in one go. Only gather what you need and are actually going to use and show them examples of how you intend to use their data.

4. Incentivise customers to part with their databuilding consumer trust

Everyone loves a freebie. In fact, according to Databoxer research, 65% of consumers say they would be more likely to share information if they received a sample of a product or a discount. And for those that market to young people, you’re in luck — the figure increases to 91% for 16–24-year-olds.

One particular company is going one step further than just freebies and discounts and is actually paying its customers for their data. Marketing firm CitizenMe believes consumers should be given the ability to control and monetise their data. The company states that its 80,000 users choose to give some of their data to brands in return for £8 a month or a charitable donation.

Asking for this data in a sustainable way also means you can be confident that you have entirely the right information about customers. When people are willing give data it means that it is more compelling and valuable. This is particularly pertinent considering that just 50% of most data brands have on consumers is accurate according to Susan Bidel, senior analyst at Forrester.

5. Make sure your customers can revoke their permission easily

A huge consumer concern around sharing data is that once they do so, they’ll never be able to reverse that decision. The effect of that mindset is that consumers are less willing to hand over their personal information in the first place. However, the GDPR is changing all that. Under the GDPR, brands need to be able to offer consumers the ability to easily revoke their permission for data use — and it will be your job to delete everything you know about that particular customer permanently.

The problem with deleting customer data, as many marketers will know, is that it’s a hugely complex technical task because customer data is rarely stored neatly in one place. Instead, different siloes will store different information, and knowing exactly what information is where is tough. Deleting customer data becomes a bit of a headache.

Though many of these problems are created by technology, the solution is also technology. Web-based tools exist that can handle gaining consumer permission for data use, while providing an easy way for consumers to revoke that permission.

Building consumer trust – and fixing the roof while the sun is still shining

With the shift to an ‘opt in’ rather ‘opt out’ era of marketing, where customers have the upper hand, brands must earn people’s trust and offer transparency. Marketers can’t afford for customers to revoke their consent and be uncontactable again. But re-building trust is possible if approached in the right way and there is a huge opportunity for the brands that adopt new practices.

However, we are not currently seeing enough evidence of brands telling customers about changes to their data policies. Just half of consumers recall seeing an email from brands asking for permission to continue to contact them, which is cutting it fine considering that, on Friday, 25th May, when GDPR comes into force, marketers won’t be able to get in touch with anybody they haven’t already gained explicit permission from or have provided services and products to in the past.

So prepare now, if you haven’t already, for GDPR. Make sure you get permission from consumers to use their contact details while you still can — and start demonstrating that you’re a trustworthy brand to consumers.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Tim Haynes
Author: Tim Haynes
Co-founder at Databoxer |

GDPR compliance company, Databoxer, is a new start-up that specifically launched to help companies become GDPR compliant through its innovative 'one-click compliance platform', which brands can install to their website. The platform gathers and securely stores consent information from website visitors who can amend their consent for data collection at any point with a simple click. Before Databoxer, Tim Haynes was founder and CEO of Nujira Ltd, the pioneer of envelope tracking — a component now used in all mobile phones. Nujira held most of the world's patents in this technology. Nujira was sold in 2015. Prior to this, Haynes was a management team member of Symbionics — a consulting business sold to Cadence in 1998. He is also the current CEO at cybersecurity firm RepKnight.

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