Privacy: Trust me, I’m a marketer

Consumers are growing wary about sharing their data, so what should brands tell them about data use, and how much do people want to know? 

Brands have quite a challenge on their hands when it comes to gaining consumers’ trust regarding personal data. New research suggests a culture of growing resistance to sharing such data online, with the vast majority of respondents to a survey by Vision Critical stating that they oppose companies being able to track their internet searches. This figure is further reinforced by the 38 per cent of people who admit that they have purposely given false information to marketers.

Respondents’ answers are based on general principles rather than specific experiences of any brand, but they highlight the fact that consumers are becoming more discerning about personal data, for better or worse.

According to Mark Durrant, director of corporate development communications at Nokia, the company has seen a clear shift in consumers’ attitudes towards sharing data. “There has been a general increase in the number of media stories on topics such as identity theft, data breaches and privacy issues in large tech companies, as well as reported issues with government agencies tracking data. This coverage has raised consumer awareness. There is an increasing risk of a backlash for organisations and brands that are not perceived to be playing fair in this space.”

Nokia is working with social media platform EngageSciences to understand consumers’ attitudes and allay their suspicions.

Until fairly recently brands may have debated how much detail to share around the collection and use of consumer data, for fear of feeding paranoia. After all, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. But data is now firmly on the public agenda, and brands that don’t seize the initiative to communicate proactively risk damaging trust.

“Companies are going to need to get out in front of this – they can wait and be regulated but they won’t look good if they do that,” says Andrew Grenville, chief research officer at Vision Critical. He points out that EU policymakers are drafting the first major revision of data protection legislation since the internet age began – the proposed General Data Protection Regulation – which will require organisations to be much clearer about the data they are collecting.

“If companies are more transparent about how they use data and why, they will be better off. Consumers are not completely averse if they know what is going on from the start,” he says. It is a view shared by Cora Robinson, head of marketing at Arriva UK Bus. 

When other dating sites were accused of selling personal data, Muddy Matches was quick

“There is a general trend in the UK that people are more interested [in how their data is being used] and less willing to share their personal data with brands. That comes from several things, but predominantly there has been lots of press overage around changes in legislation – for example, with cookies and protection of data on Facebook – over the last couple of years. I think, as marketers, if we are very clear with our customers about what we are collecting, and as long as what we are doing is compliant, we are doing everything we can do.”

One company that epitomises this approach is Channel 4, which launched a ‘viewer engagement strategy’ in 2011 aimed at using registered viewer data to inform its business strategy. In April 2012 the broadcaster also launched its ‘viewer promise’, pledging to give people greater transparency and control over their personal data when they sign up through on-demand service 4oD or any of its other digital products and services. The broadcaster enlisted the help of comedian and Channel 4 presenter Alan Carr to help launch it in a straight-talking but humorous way.

“We didn’t want it to be the equivalent of looking at a microfiche, which some of these terms and conditions can be,” says Dan Brooke, director of marketing and communications.

Channel 4 now has 9 million registered viewers – up nearly 7 million since its viewer engagement strategy launched. “It’s a combination of wanting to make sure our strength of brand was maintained, as well as a strong instinctive view from the management here that it is much better to be as open and transparent as possible, and therefore people have fewer suspicions or questions,” says Brooke. “I suspect that large numbers of people have never read the viewer promise and don’t intend to, but certainly the knowledge that it is there is perhaps enough reassurance for some people.”

He acknowledges that the company has to make good on that promise, highlighting another area where brand have a real opportunity to win trust – by demonstrating that the data is being put to good use. LivingSocial, the daily deals site, sends out a multitude of local offers to subscribers up and down the country each week. Peter Briffett, managing director of LivingSocial UK and Ireland, says the more it personalises the offers and makes them relevant to the recipient, the more people share the offers with friends.

“That is one of our challenges – to make sure that when we have taken the data, we use it to deliver a better experience,” he adds. “It’s when consumers share data with a company and they don’t use it to give something back that it becomes a problem.”

It is easy for brands to collect data because they can, without necessarily identifying a need for it. As Arriva’s Robinson says, “I know a lot of marketers who think the more customer data you have, the better commercial position you are in. From my perspective, the more engaged customer data I have, the better commercial position I am in. I would much prefer to capture 50 per cent of our customers’ data if they are willing to give it to us, as opposed to pushing for 100 per cent of data from people who don’t necessarily want to engage.”

Arriva is working with data supplier Lateral Group to manage its customer relationship marketing.

It is a question of quality over quantity. Briffett says LivingSocial doesn’t keep a lot of data because some of its most valuable insights come from purchase history. “In our world, if you ask people what they want they might say restaurant deals, but if you send them an offer to jump off Tower Bridge and have a beer afterwards, they actually want to buy that too. Purchase history allows us to keep really high levels of data on our user base.”

At online dress hire company GirlMeetsDress. com, detailed data – ranging from style preferences to body hang-ups and where the dress is going to be worn – is collected during the customer sign-up phase, but marketing manager Suzannah Harten-Ash says it is all made to work hard in order to provide a personalised service.

“We put the data to use through embellishing every part of the on-site and offline journey to create a specially tailored service for every user. This includes showing them products that are available for their particular event date, selecting dresses for them that fit with their specific dress code, and ensuring that their clothes are delivered to them wherever they need them. ”

She adds that if a brand can show a user why they are asking for a particular piece of data, and how they plan to use it to improve their experience, people are happy to share the information. “Indeed, increasingly I believe consumers are looking for this kind of custom-made sales experience from brands, and therefore understand that they have to provide some data for the company to work with.”

It is a demand Channel 4 can attest to. The broadcaster is now seeing a rise in the number of people who watch programmes on 4oD while logged in – something it encourages in order to gather data about viewer preferences as well as enabling it to deliver targeted adverts. The trend suggests that viewers are seeing a direct benefit.

Channel 4 made a ‘viewer promise’ last year to give them control of their data

While many consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their understanding of the need to share data in exchange for an enhanced experience, Arriva’s Robinson suggests this still represents one of the key problems for marketers. “Customers expect you to know who they are, their buyer behaviours, how they interacted with you before and what their preferences are; but on other hand, they don’t want to give you their information because they’re fearful of what some other brands have done in the past, which is to intrude and proactively market to them in ways that don’t meet their requirements. Marketers really need to find that balance.”

As Vision Critical’s Grenville says, brands need to look upon the collection of data as a partnership, and go further than simply providing tailored content. “People are quite happy to talk to you and share experiences if they feel they are a partner and there is a discussion going on, but if it is all one- sided and they feel companies just take from them, and that it’s not really an open dialogue, there is a sense that it is just theft.”

Going further means letting consumers know that they remain in charge, something Arriva has taken steps to stress, says Robinson. “We are proactively going out to customers and saying, ‘We believe you opted in, we have different ways of communicating with you. You tell us what you want to hear about and how you want hear about it, and we will do that.’ That is a two-way win because if people don’t want to hear about us through email, for example, it is waste of my time and resource to do that.”

Durrant says this issue of consumer control was also a finding in Nokia’s study on global attitudes and behaviours towards data last year. “The data collector must show that there are true benefits to the consumer and that there are clear and easy controls in place for them to manage their data sharing.”

It is a point clearly addressed in Channel 4’s viewer promise video. “We understood from talking to viewers that this question of deleting data is incredibly important,” says Brooke, referring to data that is sometimes classed by companies as ‘deleted’ but that can still be retrieved from a server. “We wanted people to understand that when we say deleted, we mean deleted, and Alan Carr makes quite a strong point of saying that. It’s those kind of details that make you authentic and believable.”


Simon Carter
Marketing director
Fujitsu UK & Ireland

Data has become a focal point in the media of late. From Adobe’s recent security breach to [US intelligence whistleblower] Edward Snowden, consumers have been inundated with negative stories around data, which have educated them but also perhaps tarred their opinions on data as a whole.

But the real issue is not consumers growing wary, but that brands are failing to capitalise on the data they have available and, as such, are failing to showcase and educate consumers on the tangible benefits of data collection. This is partly due to the fact that there is simply too much data available nowadays. Many businesses, in the absence of a data scientist or an outsourced team of experts, are being caught out by the volume of data, and are unable to pick out those gems that will both provide the consumer with a personalised experience and help them grow revenue. Tesco Clubcard is a great example of this. In early 2000, when it had access to far less data, it was far cleverer with it.

Here is where the issue truly lies. Today we have the technology available to sift through volumes of data, yet the majority of companies are failing to understand the power of the data they hold and therefore failing to use it in a meaningful manner. This is partly the fault of the marketer. We as marketers live in an age where it is free to reach consumers. But there has been a change in attitude towards outreach.

While it costs money and far more time to use a postage stamp to send materials to consumers, today emails and social networks have given the industry real-time access to its audience virtually free of charge, and we all know that when something is free, we value it less. In an age where we have greater access to our audience, where we have the technology to slice and dice better than ever before, we are failing to utilise these advantages – instead using a shotgun approach, when we have the ability to take a sniper rifle to the problem.

While one could argue that the threat of a backlash is prevention enough, currently this has been aimed towards the industry as a whole instead of individual brands. This perpetuates the problem, with those clever, targeted emails and communications simply being deleted alongside the barrage of other materials consumers receive on a daily basis, few caring to sift between the two.

To truly change consumer opinion, we need to show value. That can, and will, come when the industry educates itself on data and recognises that investing money in testing, targeting and segmentation will more than pay for itself versus the blanket campaigns that seem to perpetuate the approach of today’s digital marketer. My only fear is that it may be too late, as we have lost the trust of the consumer, as well as colleagues in other sectors, by failing to heed this warning.

Case study

This time it’s personal

Online dating site Muddy Matches, which brings ‘country-minded’ people together, has 86,000 registered members, up from just under 70,000 a year ago.

Access to members’ email addresses and locations enables the firm to tailor marketing emails. “For example, when we organise events such as the Mud Lovers Ball, we decide who sits on which table based on their location,” says PR and social media executive Heather Brown. “This means that if we have fewer people on one table than the others, we will send out a marketing email encouraging people from that area to sign up for the event. Members can, however, choose to opt out of these emails using their account or through a link on the email itself.”

The company also sends out occasional email newsletters to inform members of any important changes, such as when it launched its new app.

“Our members, on the whole, are happy to share personal data with us as they know that we do not share it with other organisations,” says Brown. “We also have a lot of measures in place to protect our members’ details and we do not store payment information or telephone numbers. When the TV programmes about dating websites selling data were broadcast, we did receive a lot of questions about whether we sell our members’ data and whether we are part of a network of dating websites. We assured them that we do not sell or share data with other companies and that we are completely independent.

“Although we have been trying to make members more aware of how they share personal information in our blogs and through the media, we haven’t seen a change in the way people share their data. We have a privacy page on the website that explains how members’ details will be used. This information is updated when new laws come into place, such as the new regulations regarding cookies. The terms and conditions as well as the privacy policy are also presented to the member upon sign-up. They have to tick to say that they have read and understood the policies when they join.”



The Marketing Week

Seb Joseph

Welcome to The Marketing Week, your guide to the good, the bad and the ugly in the marketing industry over the last seven days.


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