The Trust Mindset: 4 Actions Brands Should Take to Protect Customers

March 8, 2020

Earning Brand Trust

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by John Cosley, Director, Global Brand and Digital Marketing at Microsoft/Bing.

When it comes to understanding the customer journey, marketers know the value of quality consumer data. It’s a competitive differentiator. It helps us extend our reach, target customers, deliver personalized experiences, and drive revenue.

But collecting and using data comes with great responsibility.

We’ve all experienced or heard about situations where personalization crosses a line. One moment you’re using an app to control your home’s exterior lighting. The next moment, an ad for energy efficient, outdoor lightbulbs appears in your social feed. It’s the kind of experience that can erode brand trust if consumers aren’t aware that you are collecting and sharing their data. And brand trust means everything.

In a recent survey, Cisco found that 84% of respondents care about their privacy and data—and 48% have switched companies over their data policies or data sharing practices. They also identified an emerging segment of “privacy actives” accounting for 32% of all respondents, 90% of whom believe that how a brand treats their data correlates to how they will be treated as a customer.

Brands have a responsibility—even an ethical obligation based on the trusted position they have—to safeguard customer data and privacy. Consumers have come to expect it. We must approach data with a trust mindset and be purposeful in delivering personalization designed to drive loyalty and, ultimately, sales. Otherwise, consumers will go elsewhere.

Below, I’ve shared some thoughts on how brands can leverage and share data responsibly and build trust with consumers.

1. Look beyond the legislation

Legislation like the GDPR and the CCPA are designed to protect consumers and serve as a regulatory guideline for how brands approach data and privacy. During a recent KUOW interview, Microsoft President Brad Smith commented:

“We've long believed that if we want to serve the industry best, if the industry wants to be healthy on a sustained basis, it too needs to sustain the public's trust. And the public ultimately will trust technology only if their rights are protected, and their rights are protected only if they're protected under the law."

While these laws are of critical importance when it comes to protecting consumers, compliance is just the starting point. These laws are simply guardrails and consumers expect more of the brands they trust.

When establishing policies and procedures around data and privacy, look beyond the legislation to assess and outline what’s best for the consumer and align with the values of your company. Create and adhere to clear standards around data collection and usage that prioritize customer privacy. Consider a trusted value exchange when asking prospects or customers to share more about themselves. And always remember that even if something is technologically possible, if it erodes privacy, it will also erode brand trust.

2. Be mindful of who you share data with and how that data will be used

Is your company sharing customer data with a technology or media partner? Do you know what their policies are? Have you informed your customers that you may be sharing their information?

As brands, we are responsible for how partners and agencies are using the data we provide. A brand’s internal teams must understand the policies and practices of anyone they share data with—and ensure their practices protect customers. This includes tracking pixels—it’s not just the responsibility of the media companies. Make sure partner data and privacy policies meet the standards your brand has established.

3. Be thoughtful about personalization and targeting

Brands have plenty of opportunities to collect and use data for personalization and targeting, but we owe it to the consumer to be judicious. Think about how the data will be used and how it will benefit the consumer.

Also, consider your product or service. How much personalization is really required? Too much personalization can work against your brand by leaving out key audiences or being too intimate in areas where your customers might not be looking for intimacy. For example, is it helpful for a bank to run ads on overdraft protection in your social feed just after you accidentally overdrew your account? Personalization and targeting must be about putting customers’ needs and rights first and using data respectfully.

4. Be transparent and give users greater control

Transparency around privacy policies and giving users control over how their data is used are critical to building brand trust. Make users are aware of what your brand is doing with their data. Ensure privacy policies are succinct, accessible, and easily understood. Clarify the value exchange of users sharing their data—and be sure to give users the ability to opt in or opt out whenever possible.

As we gain deeper insights into our customers, brands must temper the competitive benefits of personalization with our ethical responsibility to the consumer. We must look beyond legislation to put customers first. We must be transparent and give consumers the ability to control their data—and accept responsibility for how our partners handle customer data. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s vital to earning brand trust.

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