In recent years, consumers have found good reasons to worry about the safety of their personal data. High-profile data scandals courtesy of Cambridge Analytica and the National Security Agency (NSA) have put consumers on edge.
This puts marketers in a tricky position. On the one hand, consumers expect seamless, personalized, cross-channel experiences — which require marketers to collect and manage a lot of customer data. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly wary of any organization that collects personal data.
“As a marketing culture, I would say we are close to the lowest level of trust we’ve had in the past ten years,” says Jacob Davis, Cheetah Digital’s Senior Director of Strategic Services.
Consumers need a scapegoat for their fears, and unfortunately marketers are that scapegoat. “I don’t blame marketers for the erosion of trust, but that doesn’t mean a customer won’t,” says Davis. Rather than bemoan the current state of affairs, marketers should take this opportunity to evaluate their marketing practices and ensure they are worthy of their customers' trust.
Trust is Eroded, Not Built
So how can marketers build trust with consumers?
For Davis, the idea of “building consumer trust” is not the issue. To him, you don’t build trust as much as you can erode it. “If a customer voluntarily gives you their information through any opted-in channel, they have signaled to you that they have some trust in your brand,” he says. “However, we see a lot of brands erode that trust very quickly.”
How can trust be eroded? “It can happen through misuse of data, incorrect data, or lack of data use,” says Davis. He points to a discrepancy between data collected and data used as the epitome of this. “If you ask me for my first name, but you don’t talk to me with my name, that seems inherently weird,” he says.
“If you don’t think about why you communicate with a customer the way you do, you will inevitably misuse data. You will start to share data in the wrong channels or communicate with someone who has told you not to communicate with them.”
In addition, any time a marketing communication moves beyond a transactional relationship into something creepy, it jeopardizes trust. “Creepiness is the biggest sin when it comes to the misuse of data,” says Davis. “It all stems from ignorance about why you want to communicate with your customer in the first place.”
The best way to build trust is to not collect data that you won’t use, to be very transparent about how you will use the data, and to give the customer full control.
Be Transparent and Give Customers Control
Robert Palmatier, a Professor of Marketing at the University of Washington, has done extensive research on consumer trust and data privacy, and found that the two most important factors are transparency and control. “The best way to build trust is to not collect data that you won’t use, to be very transparent about how you will use the data, and to give the customer full control,” he says.
In his eyes, data collection inherently erodes trust. “Just collecting data has a negative impact on trust,” he says. “You can suppress that negative effect through transparency and control.”
Companies need to be very clear about how each piece of data they collect will be used and give the consumer some say on the issue, whether through an accessible opt-out process or a robust preference center. “Consumers don’t want their time wasted,” says Palmatier, “and if you use the data to customize their experience and communicate your intentions very clearly, it shows the value added.”
A willingness to communicate your motivations can make the customer less likely to feel vulnerable to data misuse. However, it is imperative that marketers fulfill their promises. “When you start to communicate those ethos across the spectrum of acquisition, it starts to filter throughout the entire organization,” says Davis. “If you tell people the reason you collect their first name is to be personal, you need to think about how you can communicate in a personal way.”
Provide the Right Incentives
Customers need a reason to want to share their data with you, and those incentives can be established in a myriad of ways. Davis defines the incentive as “the unique value that the consumer will get from any relationship where they share their data.” You need to be explicit about the benefits that your customers will see when they share things like their email address.
In other words, what will the customer miss if they choose to opt out?
Incentives can be monetary — customers could access an exclusive discount if they share their email — but the long-term benefits are greater when the value goes deeper. “If it’s only for a discount, you won’t establish a strong relationship with the consumer, and you won’t be able to give them relevant contact,” says Davis. “If the consumer gets access to content, systems, and creative that makes them feel like they are part of a culture bigger than themselves, you are marketing to them in an appropriate way.”
This notion must always be top-of-mind. You can’t claim to put the customer first if you don’t authentically prioritize how they can benefit.
How to Bounce Back
Nevertheless, sometimes trust gets eroded. How do you know if you’ve lost the trust of your customers?
“If you’re concerned that you’ve lost trust, you probably have already lost it in quite a big way,” says Davis. “If you’re in that position, the most important step is to acknowledge the lost trust and to be authentic in that acknowledgment. The next step is to put your promises to good use. This comes from compelling, personalized, and relevant sources of communication across all channels.”
We might have hit a low as a marketing culture in terms of trust, but Davis envisions an upwards trajectory.
Now that culprits like Facebook have admitted to their misuse of data, brands are forced to be much more communicative. “I think there will be greater awareness of those impacts and the fact that companies are legally obligated to treat you in a better way,” he says. “While we are close to the nadir of trust in brands, we should see a nice bounce back here shortly.”
Max Totsky is a member of the content team at Cheetah Digital, where he creates and edits content for the blog, marketing campaigns, and thought-leadership resources.