As Marketing Week’s in-depth article this week will reveal, consumers have come to regard companies that deal straightforwardly with privacy and data in a much more favourable light. Conversely, those that dissemble, obfuscate and hide behind confusing policies are now viewed with suspicion.
If you find yourself more often in the latter camp of brands, the consequences will very soon become much more serious – and it’s not just a woolly matter of consumer sentiment, but also the changing reality of the legal landscape. Brands are about to lose a lot of the latitude they currently enjoy when processing personal information.
As part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is due to pass any day now (notwithstanding last-minute parliamentary shenanigans), the UK government is finally putting laws in place that could compel companies to give consumers’ data back to them in a usable form. The Midata scheme was supposed to convince brands to do this voluntarily, but after nearly two years of frustratingly slow movement the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) eventually decided it had to give itself powers to strong-arm mobile operators, banks and energy companies.
Then there is the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, likely to be passed early in 2014. As it stands, it will require companies to get explicit consent before processing any personal data. It will also give consumers the right to withdraw that consent at any time and demand deletion of their records.
The signs are that neither initiative is going to go away, even if some of the EU’s provisions are still in flux. Brands will be better off working out how to make the best of this scenario than resisting change at any cost. By responding positively and proactively you will reap the benefits of consumer trust, while the laggards will seem like Scrooges.
As a marketer, you could start off by exploring the opportunities that already exist for offering consumers valuable data-driven services. Personal data store services such as Mydex, one of the Midata member organisations, offer portals for consumers to gather their personal data in one place, where they can easily manage which companies have permission to use what.
Another service, called Handshake, is due to launch towards the end of May. It aims to create a forum for brands and consumers to barter with one another over what constitutes a reasonable value exchange when giving a company access to personal data. It thereby injects an element of ‘gamification’, which ought to help give brands a good idea of what consumers are willing to give up and what they expect in return.
So far it has mostly been tested as a means of incentivising consumers to take part in surveys, Handshake founder Duncan White says. An operator of yachting marinas got a 48 per cent response rate targeting high net worth individuals, he claims. But brands could decide to take almost any approach.
If you’re a mobile operator, for example, could you offer free minutes or data to customers who opt in to receiving marketing emails? Could you give personalised, real-time, location targeted discounts to individuals that are happy to have their phone’s GPS signal tracked, perhaps?
At the moment offerings such as these are on the periphery awaiting their big break, but given the impending legal developments around personal data, that could come soon. And the users they attract are likely to be high-value, with a deep interest in trying out innovative data-driven services. Brands ought to be stealing a march on their competitors by getting involved early on.