Companies hold more personal data on their customers than ever before. Details about our social media habits or the brand of ketchup we like are collected and stored – then used to tailor our interactions with brands from cosmetics manufacturers to banks, pension providers to gyms. But the relationship between businesses, their customers and personal data is far from straightforward.
Over half of all British consumers are concerned about the amount of data companies hold about them. New technologies aim to make mobile payments frictionless, yet 52% of us still don’t want to buy anything using our mobiles. Trust is a crucial component of success for businesses, but in recent years it hasn’t kept pace with the level of data brands want to collect.
So how did we get here, and – with new legislation like GDPR on the very near horizon – how can organisations make things better?
Businesses and personal data: the problem
The collection of personal data by brands has unfortunately become associated with sloppy targeting in recent years. Of course, many businesses use data in a thoughtful and effective way, but there are still too many negative examples. Have you ever searched for a new pair of shoes only to be bombarded by related adverts months afterwards? This kind of interaction is an example of unimaginative use of customer data – at best it’s irritating and ineffective, and at worst feels slightly sinister. Most importantly, the consumer is not getting anything they want in return for the data that has been collected about them: there is no real value exchange.
Even when there is a genuine benefit for customers – brands trading personal data for a better service, for example – businesses have historically been poor at communicating this effectively. This creates a sense among the public that companies are not being honest and open about personal data, instead trying to get away with what they can for their own advantage and no one else’s. Unfortunately, this attitude does define some brands’ data strategies – but it’s counterproductive and won’t be tenable under GDPR.
Within this context, it is the high-profile data leaks that confirm people’s worst fears. Affecting a variety of companies – from TalkTalk to Sage – these errors engender mistrust and give the impression that the corporate world is incapable of storing personal data safely and securely and is not to be trusted. GDPR will necessitate a step change, but above and beyond what can feel like an exercise in compliance, there is an opportunity to take positive action before the May 2018 deadline.
Reclaim the narrative
The discussion around GDPR has tended to focus on the problems and challenges it represents. While it’s certainly difficult for businesses in some ways, GDPR also provides brands with a golden opportunity to reset their data relationships with customers. The changes are a chance for canny companies to break away from the casual attitude that has previously defined many data protection strategies and create an approach which enhances the customer relationship.
Make sure there is a genuine value exchange
On the whole consumers accept that brands need their information to provide better services – and when they can see the benefit, they are prepared to share more and more data.
The days of businesses taking consumers’ data for granted are over. Take a step back and consider why people would want to share their data with you, then create and communicate a compelling case. This may mean rethinking your strategy entirely to make it more customer-centric, but that is what both consumers – and GDPR – demand.
At its core, trust is inherently emotional. This is particularly true in the post-truth world of fake news and political turbulence, where doubting large organisations is becoming more commonplace. While compliance is important, when people are deciding whether to trust a business they are looking for the same qualities they need in a person: transparency, visibility and the ability to deliver on promises. Consumers want to be treated as equals, rather than feeling undervalued or exploited. If businesses can keep this simple truth at the core of their dealings with personal data, they won’t go far wrong.
Phil Sutcliffe is head of offer and innovation at Kantar TNS.
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