Data protection policies secure consumer trust

Brands can gain the trust of consumers by taking good care of the data they spend so much effort collecting, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week.


Despite nearly a quarter of consumers experiencing a personal data breach in the last six months, 25% of online shoppers are “highly confident” that their personal details will be safe with a company that has an easy-to-use website with obvious security features, according to fast.MAP/DMA research, which releases its full report on 23 November.

Consumers’ second highest priority when it comes to data security is trust in the brand. The reputation of a company makes them believe that they will handle their personal data safely, say 23% of respondents, who took part in the November 2010 Data Tracker.

Customers are more likely to offer their personal details to a reputable brand than in return for a reward, the study shows. David Cole, managing director of online research company fast.MAP, explains: “Trust, a clear privacy policy and necessity prompt about 40% of consumers to divulge their personal details.

“However, only 20% or fewer are tempted by frequent shopper points, free shipping, store cards or a satisfaction policy.”

The research also reveals that consumers have the lowest level of confidence in sites with a high street presence (11%). Cole suggests: “This is possibly because a great deal of media coverage has been given to the loss of data by several big-name high street brands, such as TK Maxx [which suffered a data theft of 45.6 million credit and debit card numbers], while online brands have so far largely escaped high-profile coverage of data loss.”

But the research, sponsored by Equifax, maintains that brands still aren’t doing enough to ensure that the data entrusted to them by consumers is kept secure, especially when 22% say they have suffered a security breach in the last six months, says Cole at fast.MAP.

“There is a structural, organisational problem about how data is managed and handled,” he adds.

Consumers are reacting to this trend by becoming more wary of the personal details they reveal. Just over half (55%) of respondents are willing to give credit card details when buying goods online, compared with 56% in June when the first wave of the study was carried out. And the latest study reveals a 9% decline in the number of people willing to provide a postal address when creating an email account compared with June.

Collecting data is a priority for brands and their marketers to retain and acquire customers, says Chris Combemale, executive director of the DMA. But he adds: “With this demand has come great responsibility. Consumers are now fully aware of the value and vulnerability of their data, a fact that all too many brands have ignored at their cost.

“Identity theft and numerous well-publicised instances of organisational data losses mean consumer confidence in sharing their personal details with businesses has been shaken. Brands must be transparent in how they collect and use data, otherwise marketers face the prospect of the well of consumer data drying up.”

Market sectors
Political parties are regarded as the least trustworthy sector when it comes to data security, with 70% of people distrusting them. This compares with 74% in June.

Although public bodies and central government services like the NHS, COI and DVLA retain their second least-trusted position, they too are regarded more trustworthy than they were in June, when 21% considered them “highly distrusted” and 27% said they were “distrusted to a degree”. Now the figures are 14% and 26% respectively.

Cole says: “Attitudes have changed in only a few months. In September, even before people were fully aware of how tough the Government’s spending cuts would be, people were already adopting a more pragmatic approach when deciding what situations warranted them parting with personal information.”

The banking sector has also seen an improvement in data care confidence, from 22% trusting it highly in June, to 25% in the second wave of the study. The percentage of consumers who had “a degree of trust” has dropped by 1% to 48%, reducing overall improvement to 2%.

“People are influenced by trust but also the technical competence of these types of organisations,” explains Cole. “While trust in banks is quite low, for example, this sector is generally regarded as very technically competent at handling and processing data.

“However, the trust in a charity might be very high, but consumers fear these organisations might lack the technical competence of large financial companies,” suggests Cole, “which is why only 9% of respondents say they highly trust charities.”

Almost half (45%) say they would need to suffer a bad personal experience before they lost trust in a brand’s ability to take care of their data, the study suggests. However, bad press linked with data loss or breaches in security knocks the confidence of three out of ten consumers.

Poor targeting
Likewise, 25% of respondents would doubt a company’s reputation if they receive unwanted marketing materials from a brand, up from 21% in June. “Poor targeting is a good indicator that a company is not processing information correctly. Consumers are starting to connect the processing of personal data and the general management of it with leaving messages that are irrelevant,” says Cole.

Combemale at the DMA adds that building trust is the key to giving consumers the confidence they need to share their personal details. He warns: “Bad personal experiences, adverse publicity from data losses and breaches and receiving unwanted marketing materials are strong deterrents to consumers imparting their data. However, these are all elements that are well within the control of companies.”


the frontline


Katie Sheppard
Head of marketing

The findings show that people are becoming savvier about the amount of personal information they share online and rightly so. How you conduct your life online should be no different to how you conduct your life offline; they require the same levels of common sense.

We’re a trusted brand, and people have always been willing to share the information that we need to successfully find them a good match. They’ve realised the potential of the net in terms of it being able to connect them with people outside their social network.

We’ve gone about building trust by allowing people to get to know their potential dates in their own time. We offer our members an anonymous email address within the website, so only when they are ready to share any personal information do they do that. We also have a customer care team on call 24 hours a day, so our customers can always talk to a real person.


Duncan Lewis
Group marketing and development director

Age UK

There’s the wider notion of brand trust around these issues [of data protection]. It’s about making sure that you can have all the systems in place and necessary levels of security. We regularly check the website to make sure it can withstand penetration tests and that our data payment protocols are Payment Card Industry compliant. We make all of that public knowledge, while our privacy policy is published on our homepage.

If you’ve got that combination, I think hopefully people are relatively reassured and able to move forward. We’re not seeing a change in pattern in terms of people prepared to either donate or give us their data.

We’re keen for people to have as broad a relationship with us as possible, but do that in a way that’s logical and makes sense. We do look at saturation levels. On the one hand clearly as a charity we’re keen to maximize the fundraising potential of our base. On the other that’s about not hitting people so hard and so frequently that you turn them off to the cause, so we’re very mindful about that. We do monitor and impose quite rigorously our rules of engagement.


Derek Hobbs
Head of insight and marketing

Customers recognise more and more what constitutes a safe site in terms of the security features they should look for.

For our electronic vehicle licensing, we put a link up on the front page to talk about security and data. We’ve got 22 million people a year going through that site and have a 98% return rate, so there must be a pretty high level of satisfaction.

When we collect any data, we tell people what it is going to be used for and that we won’t share it with third parties. Whenever we capture an email address, we have a double opt-in system for receiving information from us.

There seemed to be a spate of government data breaches a few years ago that perhaps affected trust levels. However, there have been no major breaches in data collected by the government recently.


Rebecca Harwood Lincoln
UK sales manager

Polaroid Eyewear

We’ve had a 21% increase in year-to-date sales on our website, which doesn’t indicate that people are concerned about revealing their credit card details.

The Polaroid brand is associated with confidence and trust. We keep our questions and the information that we request from consumers to an absolute minimum, and we don’t follow up with lots of emails. There will, however, be a follow-up email after they order to check that everything was alright.

When we get a call from a customer, it goes straight through to a human being. People do call us and ask lots of questions, so that builds up trust as well. We don’t ever pass any details on to third parties. Respecting customer privacy is a cornerstone of our online marketing strategy.

Of adults will give credit card information when pledging support for a charitable cause, down 1% from June’s study.

Of consumers will not give their personal details when creating a social media account, compared with 45% in June.

Of consumers placed a “high level” of trust in utility companies’ use of their personal data.


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