Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control

Following up to the introduction of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, here’s the first principle.

I know right off the bat that espousing customer control of coveted data collected at great effort and expense is marketing heresy. But it’s what they want. Sensed loss of control (psychological or otherwise) was the predominant finding in Dialog’s recent research.

Control extends to multiple domains. Perhaps most contentious is who ‘owns’ someone’s data. People believe they own their own data; the businesses who collect it feel they do, and in reality, they do legally own what’s collected in the course of transacting business. Customer data is a critical asset. But what happens with that data beyond the original intent (a la “I know I bought a thing from you but not them”) is unclear and uncomfortable. Some respondents want access to their data to see what’s been collected. Some feel that they should be paid for the use of it. Most want the option to decide whether or not their data gets shared, with whom, for what purpose and in what circumstance. This is far from today’s practices.

The letter of the law may permit sharing or selling of data to 3rd parties. Long, complex privacy policies in 3 pt font may direct customers to some limited opt-out actions. Those policies are seldom read and even less seldom understood. But perception is what really matters. When customers feel loss of control over how their data is used and abused, offending brands will pay the price. One respondent told me she could tell exactly which not-for-profit entity had been repeatedly selling her data by the volumes of spam received; she stopped supporting that not-for-profit all together.

Control over the digital experience is another concern. If the internet is about freedom, then people should be free to direct their online experience, and not have a search engine or a business decide what they see. People passionately hate pop-ups, and don’t form favorable opinions of the unwanted brands that pop up. Turning them off imposes a burden on the user, and blocking all pop-ups may interfere with desired experiences on other sites. Much preferable would be inviting users to allow some dynamic messaging when they are open to receiving it.

In that same vein, customers want to choose the frequency of interaction. A positive purchase experience can easily sour by excessive promotional emailing. One respondent told me she regularly unsubscribes from chosen brands who spam her, and those brands fall off her consideration list. I myself have done this. Another respondent expressed anger over being “tricked” by a brand who slipped in a subtle clause on an e-commerce site that then obligated her to buy something she didn’t realize and didn’t want. In her words, this should have been opt-in, not opt-out. But she also told me she really appreciated that when receiving promotional material from a company she had not previously bought from, it clearly stated that she was receiving it because she had purchased from XYZ. That transparency was enough to make her feel positive about the old and the new brands.

The marketing practices mentioned here are common. Industries are built on them. But as more data is collected from more connected ‘stuff’, these issues stand to exponentially multiply. It’s not about what’s legally allowed; it’s about customer perception and experience. The more an organization empowers a customer to truly have choice and control in the data relationship, stronger loyalty and brand reputation will be the reward.

Please share your thoughts and perspectives!

 

©Dialog Research & Communications 2015 – all rights reserved

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