Understanding the driving force behind consumer privacy concerns is key to making responsible and ethical choices around the appropriate usage of consumer data. Every day billions of data points are eagerly given in exchange for various services – location and photos to social networks, emails to newsletters, message history to predictive text – and it can be easy to start viewing this data as a resource to be exploited despite consumers calling out for the right to choose anonymity. How can marketers use this data responsibly to achieve customer trust?

Firstly, it is important to look at the difference between “share” and “trade/sell”. As the amount of available data continues to grow to cover almost every aspect of our customer’s lives, we often forget that as individuals posting information online has always been a way of sharing between friends, family, and colleagues. That language didn’t change as data started being exchanged for goods and services – our customers are constantly “sharing” photos, locations, emails, ages, and more – but as marketers have looked for ways to engage customers our perspective has shifted to viewing that data as ours;  something traded for our services or used as currency.

Is it any surprise that customers feel betrayed and have pushed back against this use of the data they share? Too often in industry articles and events, we focus on getting around regulation and features like GDPR and ITP so that we can conduct business as usual. Our customers have told us that business, as usual, is not acceptable and in turn given us a clear roadmap for improvement.

Our challenge is not to find the workaround – our challenge is how to build and maintain trust by respecting our customer’s privacy and responsibly using the data they have shared to improve their experience and promote our products and services at the same time.

This perspective leads to two important questions:

  • How can we use anonymous data to improve the customer experience?
  • Do our services provide enough value to customers that they are willing to allow us to share their data?

This plentiful customer data can be difficult to activate in an intelligent fashion and customers shy away from being identified. There is a lack of trust in the ways that advertising and sales organisations are monetising this data. Our current data and automation driven targeting efforts often leave a customer feeling that their privacy has been violated and have a negative impact on a brand’s image. It isn’t difficult to rethink the ways that we approach customer communication and transparency (we are all customers!), but it does require a shift from a traditional digital marketing mindset.

The partnerships channel – encompassing influencers, strategic B2B partnerships, affiliates, and more – offers a unique opportunity to maintain the trust a customer places in their favourite businesses and services to deliver personalised, enriching experiences and products at the right time in their buying processes. Finding new and re-engaging existing customers can be accomplished as in a truly conversational and dynamic way.

Examples of responsible data use through partnerships:

  • Major airline partners with a lodging provider to send customers directly to available listings in the city they are travelling to. The airline leverages the data it has about the customer (where they are going, what fare class they are travelling in, their loyalty program status) in a safe and responsible way that does not compromise customer privacy but instead helps their mutual customer complete their trip preparations and discover experiences they may never have found.
  • A retailer working with micro-influencers leverages aggregate product and category performance data from influencers with similar audiences to send content suggestions and product information to their new partners. This becomes even more effective when automated, personalised communication tools are used to provide influencers with content their audience will find valuable right as it is going viral, which in turn drives enthusiastic engagement with the retailer. These same happy customers share their own experiences and the message continues to echo.
  • An events ticket seller partners with streaming music services to deliver local concert details to the app that the customer is listening through. Customer location, listening history and artist data is used to dynamically present the customer with the chance to hear their favourite music live – delightful customer experience and an incredible value add, not to mention a very efficient and high converting channel for the seller.

In these examples, customers maintain their privacy while benefiting from data sharing between brands that create a custom recommendation and purchase path. They also share another important similarity – they use the latest tracking, reporting, communication, and contracting technologies to safely share this data and measure the results of their collaboration. Automation and accuracy give the ability to confidently scale these partnerships. Technology has given new and nearly limitless possibilities to partnerships both established and emerging. 

Tools promising instant personalisation through algorithmic modelling and real-time, AI-driven, customer interaction have proliferated. But public sentiment and government policy have clearly indicated that customers don’t want to be “followed around the internet” or targeted. Customers instead turn to sources and relationships that they trust and find value in to provide recommendations and it is time to start authentically engaging in that conversation instead of simply flashing “relevant” ads at them wherever they turn or filling their inbox with offers. The evolving, data-driven partnerships channel provides just that opportunity.