Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable

Here is the second of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

For starters, how many times have you actually read the whole privacy notice of a vendor, financial institution, or app you put on a mobile device? Ever? The reality is that almost no one reads them. They’re generally long, filled with legal jargon, and published in tiny, hard to read font. They all vary according to applicable law. They can be hard to find on web sites. The ‘opt out’ link is even harder to find.

Not reading them is no excuse for consumers who willingly enter a business relationship to claim ignorance or victimhood – or is it? When you accept a service, you are bound by the terms. But it is widely understood that privacy notices are very challenging for average people. There is a legal concept of responsible use of personal data that at least one legal expert I’ve heard speak says the US Congress knows is going to need to be legislated. But who knows when that will be?

It is safe to say that for now that privacy notices are generally not working as they should. One respondent in Dialog’s recent study (a polished professional in a responsible job) reacted passionately with ‘privacy policies stink!’ as his gut opinion on this issue. So how can they be made better? And why should marketers even care?

The privacy notice presented to your customers is a legal covenant made with them. It establishes a bond that is integral to your brand reputation. But that doesn’t mean it has to read like a dry legal brief. Done right, it should reflect your organization’s values, its attitude toward customers and its interest in helping them understand terms of the business relationship – simply, clearly and transparently.

While privacy notices (also called statements and policies) must be developed and approved by those with legal and privacy expertise, Marketing has the communication expertise to simplify the language, put a customer advocate hat on, and collaborate with the legal team to make this customer-facing document as clear and friendly as it can be. Put it in words that read like how people talk. Make the mutual responsibilities clear and transparent. Spell out ‘what this means for us’, ‘what this means for you’, and what actionable options people have to empower control.

Make the notice readily accessible. Some of Dialog’s study respondents even suggested reminding them of the covenant every time they interact with a site or an app. Right up front. Plainly. And if a policy changes, what has changed should be immediately pointed out, allowing customers to opt out of the new terms on the spot. (By the way, changes should never be made retroactive, but that’s for another discussion).

Then consumers – read them! As a few of Dialog’s respondents willingly owned, users have responsibility in this game. You get something for what you give up – money or information. But it’s a choice. You can always choose not to use an app or a service. Last year, when Facebook spun off Messenger, I went to add it on my Smartphone to see a pending message. But then I read the notice of what I would be agreeing to in doing so – giving Facebook access to all of my non-Messenger text messages! (Why do they need that? How many of you saw that?) Messenger did not get added to my phone, and I still manage to communicate with my loved ones anyway.

Beyond your external notice, make sure you have clear internal privacy policies. Then make sure everyone in your business is trained on them. [Shameless commerce warning: Dialog can help you with this.] Remind employees often to act with responsibility and accountability. And apply those policies consistently. Breaking the established customer bond is a quick way to kill trust and damage your brand. Clarity and accountability will strengthen it.

 

©Dialog Research & Communications 2015 – all rights reserved

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