Privacy-by-Design Is a Starting Point That Leads to Long-Term Benefits

Three Key Points to Help Marketers

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For advertises, marketers and media gurus, the opportunity of data big and small is significant.

Programmatic buying, dynamic content and context-targeting promise the answer to that awful "How do we do more with less?" question. Consumers get more relevant ads, content and communications. Businesses get better insights for better decision-making. Real time actually becomes real. Data is here to rescue us from diminishing budgets, distracted consumers and fragmenting media. And it will, as long as we don't abuse it.

With opportunity comes responsibility.

Consumers upload terabytes of intimate data to social-media platforms every day. We revel in and rely on tracking the minutiae of our lives through websites and apps -- our money, steps, calories, vitals, sleep, the airports we visit, our children's milestones. We are creating data everywhere we digitally tread, both intentionally and unintentionally, and we are increasingly comfortable with that.

Credit: Images via iStockPhoto

But this vat of data is a wicked problem for marketers -- a problem for which there are no definitively right or wrong solutions. Because while data can create great value and send ROI soaring, it can also make consumers feel violated, ruin their credit, compromise the safety and innocence of their children, or worse.

Yes, consumers should be more thoughtful and careful about their choices. But we're asking them to read the buried 6-point-font legalese to educate those choices? Yes, government should pass a bill or two. But we are an enterprising society that rejects severe legislation, and tactics like the Do Not Call registry and CAN-SPAM can't take us all the way.

The responsibility for data privacy falls on the shoulders of marketers more than anyone else. We simply have the most to lose if our efforts are poorly designed, and the most to gain if they're designed well.

Privacy standards: Everyone wins
As an industry we can be pioneers in setting boundaries that will protect consumers for years to come and still deliver on efficiency, effectiveness and customer experience. We understand this stuff; it is literally our job. As a result, we are in a unique position to create privacy standards that ensure everyone wins.

Here are some places to start:

1) Integrate data planning as an upstream design discipline

  • Ask what data really need to be captured, and what data really need to be stored vs. what can be processed in real time without storing.
  • Aim to store data showing a consumer action (e.g., customer visited the blue page) separately from data showing what triggered that action or the actual consumer behavior (e.g., received the blue banner).
  • Preemptively outline data risks and intended course of action in the event of crisis.

2) Evolve from fine print to more transparent disclosure strategies

  • Disclose all intended and potential future uses of consumer data in simple language at the point of data collection.
  • Incorporate store/do not store and use/do not use checkbox options on forms next to sensitive data fields.
  • Offer (and train) live chat experts to answer privacy questions (not just product/service questions) directly.

3) Make privacy a positive part of the brand experience

  • Formalize robust preference centers as a new User Experience best practice, including options to receive (or not receive) content customized to location, interests and purchase history.
  • Make privacy decision points more bite-size and contextual. For example: "The last two pages you visited suggest you may already be a customer, would you like to see content designed for existing customers for the rest of your visit?" Or: "You received this because you purchased this product. Let us know if you prefer we don't use your purchase history to customize your content in the future."

By adopting a privacy-by-design mentality, we can begin to transform ideas like these into best practices that have long-term benefits for both consumers and brands. Let's lead the way.

Jessica Kernan is chief strategy officer-North America at RAPP.

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