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Turning Customer Privacy into a Brand Positive

customer-privacy-loont_900_450_90_s_c1_smart_scaleRecently, the Canadian Marketing Association hosted its Regulatory Conference and while I was not in attendance, a summary of the key takeaways by Anna Duckworth, who covered the event for the CMA, caught my attention.

The highlights included a speech by Ontario’s former Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian. While she has moved on from her role as a regulator, Dr. Cavoukian is now the executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University and I believe that she will continue to be an advocate for what she calls “Privacy by Design.” This framework, devised as a way to embed privacy as a foundational element of a business practice, is now published in 37 languages and has been recommended as one of three practices for protecting online privacy by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

In Dr. Cavoukian’s talk, she summarized her top 10 takeaways as follows:

1. Privacy is not about secrecy; it’s about control.
2. Many believe you can either have privacy or security, but security and privacy can co-exist.
3. Six out of 10 Americans are distrustful of their government.
4. Zero-sum thinking will only hold you back. Embrace doubly enabling systems: marketing and privacy.
5. Focus on integrating data planning as an upstream design discipline.
6. Evolve from fine print to more transparent disclosure strategies.
7. Make privacy a positive part of the brand experience.
8. Increase consumer trust right out of the gates. Privacy can be your competitive advantage.
9. Be deliberate and proactive: lead with Privacy by Design rather than privacy by chance.
10. Privacy is good for business.

While there are nuggets of wisdom and insights in each of these items, two statements in particular captured my imagination, especially when used in combination. The idea of making privacy “a positive part of the brand experience” along with the notion of increasing trust out of the gates so marketers can make privacy “part of your competitive advantage” resonated with many of the ideals we have embraced over the years at LoyaltyOne and our coalition loyalty program, AIR MILES.

We know from research that consumers are increasingly mistrustful of brands as they continue to ignore the personal information they accumulate. Less than 50% of Americans (48%) trust businesses with their personal information, according to a LoyaltyOne survey conducted in August. Sixty-seven percent do not feel they receive a benefit for sharing their personal information.

So what would happen if we turned the entire equation on it’s head, in essence transforming what can be perceived as a critical weakness and fear (privacy) into a positive part of the entire customer experience?

By bringing the notion of protecting customer information and respecting its use to the forefront, can we change the way consumers perceive their interactions with brands from the outset? I mean more than simply adding a customer checkbox that invites the brand to send  more information, but constructing the entire information exchange process as a critical part of the customer’s value proposition. In doing so, brands would be clear from the beginning on what they plan to collect and equally clear on how they plan to use that shared information to enhance how customers interact with the brands.

In our company, we use a concept called “link and label” as part of how we manage our employee activities. Every year we conduct an employee survey and then we act on that feedback. However, the key to the initiative’s success is not simply acting on the feedback, we actually call it out: “As an associate base, you told us the following … and we have now made this great change to address the feedback.”

By linking and labeling the work that gets done, our associates are assured we are acting on their comments about their customer experiences at LoyaltyOne. Perhaps there is a lesson between Dr. Cavoukian’s insights and our approach to feedback. Perhaps if we took a more considered approach to committing to add value to the customer experience and then calling out when we actually act on that information, the customer would see that opting in to share information results in events that add value to the shopping experience.

Maybe that would begin to reverse the downward spiral of consumer sentiment toward organizations that do not use their information to create value. Just smaybe we would start to see privacy in a different light – as a way to build customer trust and ultimately engagement.

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What do you think?