By stepping foot into the world of digital marketing, you — and your organization — take on tremendous responsibility with your customers.

Think about how you would feel if a stranger came into your house, jumped on your computer, popped in through your social media accounts, read your conversations, scanned what you’ve shopped for recently and checked out your weight on your fitness app while they were there?

This is the real-world equivalent of what is happening with most data collection practices today. This isn't because marketers are bad people. Marketer wants to serve their customers better. But it can feel invasive if it happens when your customers are not aware of it, do not understand how you will use their information and have no control over the process.

(Editor's Note: Christopher Justice will be presenting a session on the ethics of customer data collection Nov. 4 at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 in Chicago)

Follow the Golden Rule

To reference the golden rule for digital marketing, this is about respect — treat your customers as you would want your mother to be treated or better.

As handy as your mother might be on her smartphone, she likely does not know that she is having a "digital experience." It is up to the marketers on the other end of her smartphone to be responsible and transparent in their collection practices. In other words, her digital life is in the hands of a virtual stranger.

And that stranger might be you … so it is vital that you accept the level of responsibility that you have for your customers’ digital experience that comes with your position as a digital marketer.

Three Things You Can Do

To build transparency in your data collection — whether explicit or implicit — and protect the privacy of your customers, consider doing the following in your organization.

  1. Ask only for the data you need at the right time in the customer’s buying journey. Premature or pushy asking only leads to abandonment. Would you want someone to ask your mother that question?
  2. Ensure that your tools integrate and cross-reference the data you are collecting. A fragmented customer with multiple records gives you fuzzy vision, not to mention that your organization is missing opportunities to have personalized conversation. And THAT means losing credibility and cash.
  3. Consider the security and stability of your servers to collect, process and use the collected data. If there is a significant demand on IT personnel just to maintain security, or your server cannot keep up with massive data securely, it is no longer optional for your organization to think about an upgrade. Just do it.

Good marketing is about brand credibility. If a customer feels their data was inappropriately collected or used, it may feel intrusive — like someone has taken something from them. That does not build credibility and, obviously, can even hurt your brand presence — because they will tell all their friends.

Transparency is Invisible

Whether your role is martech, executive, branding strategist or digital janitor, your job is to openly meet your customers where they are with every interaction to have a relevant-to-them conversation. You may not know it when you are doing it right, but you will certainly hear about it if you miss the mark.

To meet the changing conversations of your customer, you — and your technology — must be agile, versatile and make your customer feel like your brand is invisibly visible. Having enterprise-wide adoption of technology in a single, easy to use platform can help here. Your mother does not need to know how electricity is generated to flip the switch, and neither do your customers. They only need to have a great digital experience — that they can trust — with your brand. 

Minimize surprises by maximizing transparency. Interrupt their world only to give them helpful information to make their lives easier. Let them have a say in your relationship. Give them the ‘No’ button if they should ever, for any reason, want you to stop reading their digital body language and behavior.

The bottom line: do not break into people’s houses, respect your customers, and own the very real responsibility of being a good digital marketer by practicing transparency and ethics in data collection and usage.

If you'd like to learn more about the ethics of customer data collection, Christopher Justice will be speaking on Nov. 4 at our DX Summit, which will be held Nov. 3 and 4 at the W Hotel City Center in downtown Chicago. Find out more here.

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