Privacy Perfect

Dutch HollisPrivacy is one of those concepts that has developed completely new connotations, and caused completely new problems in the digital age. From social networks to micro-blogging to text messaging, we have unparalleled access to information about our friends and colleagues. We marketers also have unparalleled access to information about our consumers. In the words of Spiderman's Uncle Ben Parker, "Take out the trash, Peter!" "With great power comes great responsibility."

Aphorisms for struggling superheroes aside, how can you make sure that you get all the value possible out of your data without imposing on the privacy “comfort zone” of your consumers? First, follow some privacy best practices.

Here are a few with which you may already be familiar, and apply across any digital channel:

  • Allow for easy, conspicuous opt-in and opt-out.
  • Allow customers to update preferences without necessarily opting out.
  • When users opt out, delete previously stored data.
  • Take abuse complaints seriously and act quickly.
  • Have a posted, up-to-date privacy policy. Live it and breathe it into your marketing efforts.

Second, you need to educate your consumers on the value proposition of the relationship – it’s a set of transactions, after all, so make them understand the value. If you can adequately answer the “What’s in it for me?” question, your customers may be willing to accept your (careful and respectful) stewardship of their data.

  • Be transparent and concise about how the data is going to be used, but do it in a way that stresses the benefit to your consumers.
  • Tell them that by tracking this information, you will provide more relevant search results and suggestions, for example. Communicate your willingness to help them shop more efficiently.
  • Consider special pricing, shipping, features, etc. for your most valuable customers who choose to participate.
  • Be forthcoming about the frequency and purpose of the communications you will expose them to, based on their private data.

As you design new marketing programs, be exceedingly cautious about how your privacy policy and your consumers are impacted. Facebook’s Beacon fiasco demonstrated just how wrong it can go. A few others have earned reproach in similar ways since then. It’s important if you are making dramatic changes to how you treat your consumers’ data, you make sure you notify them, start with a default opt-out state and, most importantly, sell the program just like you would anything else.

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