By Matt Harris, Co-Founder of Dyspatch

Digital marketers have long benefited from consumers’ cavalier attitude toward sharing personal information. But in light of high-profile data breaches and more stringent regulation, the era of easy access to personal data is drawing to a close.

The GDPR in Europe, Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the California Consumer Privacy Act, all point to 2018 as a turning point in consumer trust and willingness to share their data.

One shift has been in consumer recognition of the value of their data. Surveys routinely demonstrate a willingness to share personal information in exchange for something in return. Most recently, a poll by Acxiom and DMA found that 58% of consumers are “data pragmatists” who will provide data when there is a clear benefit in doing so. For instance, a data pragmatist might provide their email address to receive early access to a holiday sale, or agree to share their location to get directions from a map application.

That’s encouraging news for marketers who need to use such data to craft personally targeted offers. But before a single data point is shared, two conditions must be in place:

  • The customer needs to trust their data will be safe with your brand
  • They need to feel like they’re getting something of value in return

Communicating both trustworthiness and value aren’t one-off tasks — they’re ongoing efforts that should be part of everything you do. It’s important to build on both over time, as you nurture relationships with your customers. Keeping the following in mind will help keep you on the right track:

Improve transparency around privacy policies and terms and conditions.

Some 91% of consumers agree to both privacy policies and terms and conditions without reading them. In part, that’s because most are written in legalese that is (or at least seems to be) designed to be ignored. Even Apple, known for its simplicity, offers T&Cs that only a lawyer could love. It doesn’t have to be this way. And in fact, it shouldn’t be. Plain language privacy policies and terms and conditions are great for building trust with your customers, but they’re also required in order to be GDPR compliant.

A good example is DuckDuckGo, the alternative search engine, who details their privacy policy clearly and without obtuse, legal language. They also put headers on their policy page, such as ‘Why You Should Care’ and ‘Information Not Collected’, to make it clear what data the company is collecting/not collecting, why it matters, and what they do with the data they do collect. In another example, GitHub, the web-based hosting service for version control, breaks its T&Cs down into digestible sections and summarizes each in plain English. (The T&Cs even bold a suggestion to, “Please read this section carefully; you should understand what to expect.”) Too many companies use boilerplate T&Cs that undermine, rather than instill, trust. But your T&Cs are like any type of brand communication, and they say a lot about what you think of your users.

Take every opportunity to communicate your commitment to data security.

You can have the most user-friendly Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions on the web,  clearly spelling out exactly what data you collect, how you use it, and with whom you share it, but they will do you absolutely no good if your customers don’t know about them. The GDPR compels marketers doing business in Europe to inform customers about, and obtain consent for, every piece of data they collect, including links to plain-language policies. As a result, security and privacy messages — on-site, in-app, in email — are becoming increasingly common, so much so that users will soon begin to expect them, if they haven’t already.

Trust messaging was the norm for e-commerce for a very long time and it should become the norm again, and not just for e-commerce — for every business that collects user data. There is no downside to providing such messaging, even if there’s no legislation compelling you to do so. You’re reassuring your customers that you take their privacy and the security of their information seriously, and in so doing, you’re earning their trust.

Offer value in exchange for data.

You should also clearly communicate the benefits of sharing data with you. For example, in your cookie notification, let the user know how accepting your cookies will benefit them, i.e. cookies will allow you to remember them, so they don’t have to re-fill forms, or they’ll let you provide personalized product or content recommendations. Do the same for other data points as well. For instance, with location data, you can provide in-store availability; an email sign-up will give the user early access to new features; a birth date will allow for personalized birthday deals, etc. It’s easy to just say providing data will allow you to provide ‘more personalized experiences’ but being specific about what those experiences look like will resonate more deeply with your customers, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be willing to share their data.

But that said, try to avoid offering any kind of financial incentive. Research might indicate that 50% of consumers are happy to exchange data for a monetary benefit, but it’s a short-term win. After all, a customer can redeem a coupon code then withdraw their consent. What consumers really want are personalized experiences tailored to their specific needs and wants. For example, while a service like Yelp might offer generic ratings of local restaurants, most diners would prefer personalized recommendations based on their own, unique tastes. Long-term, companies who inspire enough trust to collect the data needed to offer that level of personalization will win out.

Optimize your marketing, transactional, and drip campaign emails.

Email is a great place to reinforce your trust messaging and encourage data sharing. I’m not talking about overwhelming customers by asking for data in every single email. I’m talking about gentle reminders about privacy and security, and periodic nudges toward opportunities to share data in exchange for particular benefits. Here are just a few examples:

  • Add trust messaging to your footer (in addition to the links to your Privacy Policy and T&Cs that should already be there)
  • Remind customers about your Preference Center, as a place for them to customize the types of emails they receive, frequency, product or content preferences, etc., (but which is also a great place for you to collect additional data)
  • Promote the benefits of your loyalty program (another great data collection method)

But by far the two best things you can do with your emails to build trust and encourage data sharing are:

  • Use the customer’s data only as you’ve said you would
  • Deliver on the benefits you’ve already promised

That means optimizing your emails to provide exceptional, hyper-personalized experiences based on the data the customer has provided, and that they’ve agreed to allow you to use.  

Many marketers still view the GDPR and other data privacy legislation as costly impositions. But smart marketers see the shift toward transparency and trust as an opportunity to build stronger relationships with their customers, a chance to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate their commitment to privacy and security. The era of easy access to consumer data may be ending, but a new era of deeper trust between customers and their favorite brands is just beginning.

Matt Harris is co-founder and CEO of Dyspatch.
An edited version of this article originally appeared in MarTech Advisor.