Most Chief Marketing Officers today can talk a good game about the importance of respecting data privacy. We’ve followed the evolution and passing of California’s, Virginia’s, and soon-to-be Colorado’s new privacy laws while waiting to see where other regions will land with their proposed bills. We’ve put our cookie banners in place, added consent checkboxes where prescribed, and squashed advertising concepts that overuse personal data to the point of being “creepy.”
And yet, the hard truth is that the marketing organization remains one of the worst offenders when it comes to respecting consumer data rights. From highly-targeted paid ads, an overabundance of trackers, and third-party data usage, campaigns across the industry are still fueled by other people’s data. Even the privacy actions we’ve seen from certain companies, if we’re honest, are often begrudgingly executed at the request of legal counsel.
Why does marketing keep dropping the ball on privacy? Because we treat it like a legal compliance issue instead of a consumer experience. In some ways, that’s understandable. There are more than a dozen global privacy compliance laws to navigate, from CCPA to GDPR and LGPD. Additionally, privacy is often introduced to marketing by lawyers as a matter of box checking without a thought for the potential business value.
However, compliance only tells part of the story. Consumers are becoming increasingly vocal on their desire for more data respect.
Study after study has affirmed that consumers want companies to be more responsible with data privacy. As the Head of Marketing at data privacy company Transcend, I commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans to assess their attitudes and opinions about data privacy among today’s consumer brands. The inaugural findings were stark.
To start, 93% of Americans would switch to a company that prioritizes data privacy, and 88% of Americans are frustrated by the fact that they don’t have control over their personal data. Privacy also impacts brand attributes. Companies that prioritized data privacy were called “trustworthy” (62%) and “seen to care about their customers” (60%). However, companies that do not offer data privacy were called “untrustworthy” (59%), “unethical” (44%), and almost one in five said “lazy” (16%).
Beyond the consumer studies, the advertising industry is also changing around marketers. Since Apple’s rollout of App Tracking Transparency earlier this year, only 96% of iOS users in the United States opted out of letting apps track them. This has a staggering impact on a marketer’s ability to reach the roughly 100 million people who use iPhones. Apple credits its change to increased consumer protections and its long-standing commitment to data privacy.
In essence, the opportunity in front of Chief Marketing Officers is to take a risk mitigation process and turn it into a unique brand differentiator. Look at the “compliance to brand trust” effects in Nike’s turnaround of their labor practices and sustainability or Airbnb’s shift from host terms of service to a moment of community togetherness in the face of discrimination on the platform.
I’ve seen this evolution up close before, too. As Uber’s Global Director of Safety Marketing, I traveled from Kuala Lumpur to London to South Carolina to quantify the global consumer need for safety, and translate it into growth opportunities.
Through a mix of research methodologies, we were able to chart deeper elements of safety and demonstrate to the business that safety investments did not end in meeting regulations. Instead, the early models, and subsequent marketing campaigns, proved that safety was an area where corporate leadership would fuel long-lasting business growth.
Today, the same opportunity exists for data privacy, but it means we, as marketers, finally need to practice what we preach: get to the substance of change today in order to reap the brand benefits tomorrow.
So how can marketing executives lead on this issue? Based on my experience running both global and regional marketing programs for the past decade, there are five key things I believe every marketing leader can do:
Know your marketing data trails. A “user” journey map is in every marketer’s toolkit to better optimize user experiences, but a data journey map will tell you how your organization is managing your consumer’s most precious asset—personal data. There are key questions to know: Where are we storing consumer data? How many marketing vendors have access to our consumer data, and can we easily access or delete it if we need to? Do we buy consumer data or sell it? Do our consumers know about these practices? For each new campaign, can we easily assess what types of consumer data we’re using, collecting, or sharing? Head marketers should understand the data footprint of our own organizations. It is not the legal department’s job to tell us.
Recognize that more is not more. There’s a continued bias toward collecting more consumer data than may be needed. This trend continues even in the face of feedback that consumers would prefer to buy from companies that are better stewards of personal data, which includes collecting less data when possible. We need to fight the short-sighted notion that more data is always better and instill a different approach in our teams and our media agencies. Sometimes, this requires having honest conversations with our CEO and C-suite peers about why this restraint is valuable for our brand’s reputation and long-term security risks. The good news is that our legal and security peers are likely to be advocates for this type of healthy data governance.
Champion transparency. Ah, that delicious marketing buzzword: transparency. It’s one thing to use consumer data, and it’s another for the consumer to know what we’re doing with it. The latter is real transparency. It gives choice and removes imbalances of power. Everywhere we collect data, there should be clarity for consumers. This is not the standard today. In fact, based on most company websites and apps, it is likely that we as an industry have rewarded designers who come up with “dark patterns” or other ways of hiding important data privacy messages. A knee-jerk reaction to not losing our tracking ability means we haven’t prioritized smarter ways to execute our projects.
Study the market research. The research on consumer attitudes about data privacy is clear, and people want a better, more respectful experience. Let’s recognize this as an incredible market opportunity and challenge our teams to be consumer-led in this space. For example, Transcend’s survey found that nine in 10 Americans said that the topic of data privacy was only going to continue to increase in importance over the next five years. Be guided by customer insights now in order to stay ahead of the industry and consumer demand in the next few years.
Move from a defensive posture to a growth mindset. Privacy regulations continue to proliferate globally, with many laws passing unanimously. When learning about data privacy regulation from our legal peers or privacy officers, we need to view it less from a place of market compliance and instead from a reputation and growth strategy. If we recognize it as valuable local consumer insight on priorities, we can open up a new path for competitive advantage and reap the benefits for our company’s success.
Sure, it’s hard to harness a consumer trend that requires an entire organization to alter course. Targeting, retargeting, personalization, and, ultimately, business growth are all fueled by existing data practices. On top of that, the Chief Marketing Officer perch remains a pressure-filled position, and rich amounts of consumer data can help to show effectiveness and insulate investments from additional scrutiny.
I’m not suggesting we reject all of the tools of the marketing trade, but we need to be smarter about helping our organizations create value from changing consumer attitudes.
Personalized, relevant marketing is the hallmark of a great brand campaign. We don’t have to give that up to better prioritize data privacy. But, the bottom line is that we can’t continue to claim the moral higher ground on brand trust if we don’t prioritize data privacy as the very element that could break that bond.
Kate Parker is the Chief Operating Officer at Transcend, the first-ever data privacy infrastructure technology company that powers data privacy for brands like Robinhood, Patreon, and Opendoor. She is the former Global Director for Consumer Safety Marketing & Strategic Initiatives at Uber and a former Google Product Marketing Manager.