private sign over a letter opening in a red door
PHOTO: Dayne Topkin

Consumers want personalized experiences. There’s no two ways about it.

The latest Accenture Personalization Pulse Check reveals two-thirds of consumers are more likely to purchase from a retailer that sends relevant promotions or remembers previous purchases. Whether they’re visiting the website or mobile app of their chosen brand, consumers want a relevant, seamless experience across all channels, devices and touchpoints.

But personalization requires one essential ingredient: Data. Until recently consumer data was in abundance and businesses were free to collect as much of it as possible. Now we are entering an era of potential data scarcity as a raft of regulations — from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to Nevada’s amendment to its online privacy law — make consumers more aware of the personal information that businesses collect and provide more control over how that data is used.

In my last column I said marketers often see compliance with data regulations as someone else’s problem, relying on legal and IT to hammer out the finer details. But without data, delivering relevant, personalized experiences is virtually impossible, making privacy very much a marketing and customer experience issue. 

Let’s take a closer look at why that is and how by accepting it, marketers can deliver profitable customer experiences.

Related Article: Marketers, Data Collection and the E-Word: Ethics

Why Privacy Is a Customer Experience Issue

We’ve established that consumers want relevant, personalized experiences, but they are increasingly nervous about providing the information to enable these. One survey shows over 70% of US consumers worry about how brands collect and use their personal data.

Forrester’s recent report, The Top Trends Shaping Privacy in 2019, highlights that privacy consent is the first opportunity for customers to interact with a brand — and the importance of first impressions. Marketers need to take privacy seriously and gain trust right from the start of the consumer relationship to access valuable personal details. Brands that do will be empowered to create ever-better experiences and will thrive, while those that don’t will be progressively left behind, unable to connect meaningfully with prospects and customers. Getting trust right will be the basis of competition and differentiation in an age of data scarcity.

Whether regulations require marketers to achieve explicit consent or just to explain their data practices clearly and dissuade consumers from opting out, the key to gaining trust is giving consumers the control. It is asking permission to use data for a specific purpose and only using it for that purpose. It is reassuring consumers they are simply borrowing data and will give it back when asked. It is about protecting data and only sharing it with the consumer’s knowledge and consent. It is about collecting the minimum amount of information required to complete a specific task.

Data privacy regulations such as the GDPR and CCPA are an opportunity to build trust with consumers. They provide a framework for marketers to give consumers control, demonstrate trustworthy data practices, and let customers decide how data is used to deliver the experiences they want.

Regulations essentially force businesses to become customer centric, something marketers have paid lip service to for years. The UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham believes regulations give businesses “the opportunity to put people at the heart of their data services.” By committing to transparent, fair and compliant data practices, marketers can use regulations to their advantage in building consumer trust, accessing valuable data, delivering superior customer experiences and ultimately growing customer lifetime value.

Related Article: Let Ethical By Design Guide Your Use of Consumer Data

Creating Privacy-Focused Customer Experiences

To make the most of the data regulation opportunity, marketers need to consider Privacy User Experience, or Privacy UX. As outlined in my article, "What is Privacy UX?," Privacy UX is about taking best practices from the field of user experience and human-centered design and applying them to data collection and privacy interactions.

Marketers should start with privacy interactions, where they explain data practices and request the consumer’s permission. Data regulations require the language used in these explanations to be easy to understand, without legal jargon. But more than that, the consumer should feel someone has put thought into writing them, that they truly reflect business values, and they sound like something the brand would say.

As well as ensuring the voice used in privacy interactions is on-brand, marketers should also pay attention to the design, ensuring it matches the look and feel of their website and other properties that marketing teams have spent so long fine-tuning. A genuine, on-brand explanation that informs the user what will happen to their data is far more effective at building strong customer relationships than a trust-washing approach where standard boilerplate text in a gray banner is used to mask a vague or overly complex privacy policy.

When designing privacy interactions, marketers must remember to add the why to the what, explaining not only how data will be used but also what’s in it for the consumer. This is what we call the value exchange. Marketers should clearly outline the benefits they can deliver to the customer once they have access to the data that allows them to understand individual needs. If consumers understand the benefits of sharing their data, they are far more likely to do so. According to the Forrester report, some privacy pros state that a robust privacy program helps reduce expenditure on risky and poor-quality third-party data, as they shift their efforts to focus on first-party data instead. Suddenly, you’ve got the attention of business partners — privacy is not just about compliance, it supports business and revenue growth.

Moving beyond privacy interactions, there are broader ways businesses can enhance the customer experience in line with data regulations. They need to make privacy an integral part of business strategy, not an afterthought. By gaining executive and stakeholder buy-in marketers can ensure privacy-driven customer experience — as well as employee privacy rights — is top of mind across the organization and ingrained in company culture. They should implement processes and technologies that facilitate business agility, enabling them to respond quickly to new privacy regulations as they emerge. They should also ensure platform reliability and end-to-end cyber security so their data protection promises to consumers can be upheld.

Related Article: Data Is Getting Very Personal

Marketers, Step Up to the Privacy Challenge

Marketers may be tempted to leave privacy compliance to legal and IT teams, but the reality is the data they collect, how they interact with consumers to gain permission, and how they treat the data collected is all part of the customer experience. The Forrester report recommends using privacy as the bedrock of your ethical framework, and I couldn’t agree more. Brands that build privacy into their customer experience design and digital experience footprint will gain more trust, better access to data, and the ability to deliver the personalized experiences their customers expect. At the end of the day, privacy will affect a customer’s experience. The question for marketers is whether you want that experience to be intentional or unintentional.