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The ultimate brand guide to helping consumers achieve data harmony

30-second summary:

  • To find success in the age of data, brands must help consumers find data harmony
  • Privacy is dictating corporate structure, creating new jobs and giving rise to new ways of doing business.
  • Much of the mistrust plaguing brands can be traced to a lack of clarity; rebranding privacy so that everyone can understand will counteract this.
  • An economy built on data economy is emerging, requiring that brands give consumers a clear and fair appraisal of their info.
  • Brands should handle personal info with the same delicacy, consent and discretion that would be granted to consumers’ physical bodies.
  • To truly help consumers feel at peace with their data, brands must consider the emotional side.

As a brand, you’ve heard it; as a business, you’ve felt it—personal data is a growing force in consumer culture, and it’s seeding a host of new behaviors, expectations and trust metrics.

What started as a way to make users’ lives easier by serving up convenient, personally relevant information has morphed into what’s perceived as a shady, underhanded economy of consumer data wheeling and dealing.

With consumers nearing a breaking point amid increasingly frequent and severe data breaches and brands coming under fire for data malpractice, it’s clear the current infrastructure isn’t working for anyone.

To successfully move forward, brands urgently need to help consumers find harmony with their information—or risk losing their trust and business.

Below are five considerations for brands to help consumers find data equilibrium.

Build your business around privacy

Already, data privacy is dictating corporate structure, creating new jobs and giving rise to new ways of doing business.

Businesses have begun to reorganize around privacy, hiring privacy specialists and consultants to guide operations.

Harvard Business Review reported a drastic increase in the number of chief data officers, climbing from 12% in 2012 to 68% in 2018, citing data from NewVantage Partners.

Behemoth brands like GSK, CVS and State Farm are among the companies that have added a chief privacy officer to their leadership teams in recent years.

Privacy is impacting business beyond the board room as well. The advertising industry is restructuring around privacy, spawning a new market for ethical operations.

The launch of Quintesse in March 2020 jumpstarted the “adtech renaissance,” as Forbes reported. The company is an intelligence platform for brands, agencies and publishers that offers pro-privacy targeting solutions—proposing a new framework for targeted advertising centered on privacy.

It’s no longer sufficient to treat privacy as an addendum that can be tacked on to your brand identity. Going forward, privacy should be cemented at the heart of your business and considered in every step you take as a brand—from your C-suite to your communications.

Make data policy easy to understand

Much of the mistrust plaguing brands can be traced to a lack of clarity—a substantial 85% of consumers say it’s difficult to know what to do to protect personal information, 76% think controlling the security and privacy of personal data is very time-consuming, and only 10% are familiar with steps to stop personal info from being shared and sold, according to 2019 findings from Wunderman Thompson Data.

Brands are beginning to catch on, reframing their policies to make them engaging and easy to understand. Google and Twitter reformatted the way in which they communicate their policies in 2019, featuring simplified language and clean design.

In November 2019, Apple unveiled a new privacy portal, presenting its privacy policies as if they were Apple products in a pared-down, visually driven and easily digestible format.

To help consumers make peace with their info, brands will need to rebrand privacy so that everyone can understand.

Put consumers in control

Just as business needs and operations are being restructured around privacy, so too is the capital with which that business operates. As The Economist famously declared, “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”

But, currently, consumers feel duped or intentionally kept in the dark by companies who use their data: 89% of US consumers think companies are deliberately vague about how the “data for benefit” exchange really works, according to 2019 findings from Wunderman Thompson Data.

Consumers are clamoring for agency over how their info used—and part of that agency includes an assessment of their data’s worth. This is spurring a new value exchange—one that operates with data as the primary currency.

Companies like Loomia and Awear are banking on data commoditization structures, using smart tags and blockchain rewards to establish a framework for ethical data exchange between consumers and brands.

As the data economy develops, brands will need to give consumers a clear and fair appraisal of their info.

Treat consumers’ data as you would their physical bodies

Data is not just a list of facts; rather, it is a compilation of deeply personal attributes, thanks to technology that is adept at facial, voice and biometric recognition, and apps that collect intimate information from users.

Taken together, face, voice, biometric and health info can nearly reconstruct an individual’s most personal physical attributes.

And the majority of Americans find this unsettling; 63% think it’s “very creepy” that brands collect and store their fingerprint, 61% think it’s “very creepy” that brands collect and store info about how their voice sounds, 60% think it’s “very creepy” that brands collect and store images of their face, and 52% of think it’s “very creepy” when brands collect and store data revealing if a woman is pregnant or not, according to 2019 findings from Wunderman Thompson Data.

At the core of the privacy conversation sits a growing awareness that digital identities require sensitive protection measures.

Ajay Bhalla, president of cyber and intelligence at Mastercard, echoed this sentiment: “Our digital and physical lives are merging and we need a digital identity solution that reflects this reality.”

To avoid creeping consumers out and leaving them feeling exposed, brands should handle personal info with the same delicacy, consent and discretion that would be granted to consumers’ physical bodies.

Consider the emotional side of data

The stress, frustration and anguish that consumers feel when trying to manage their personal info is driving a spike in data anxiety.

After being notified of a security issue with their personal information, 55% of consumers report feeling disoriented, 48% violated and 37% frightened, according to 2019 findings from Wunderman Thompson Data.

Pew Research Center findings also indicate that Americans feel concerned, confused and defenseless when it comes to privacy.

New data wellbeing solutions hope to help ease the emotional strain. In India, Facebook partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education in July 2020 to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online wellbeing.

And Mozilla and Tactical Tech released their Data Detox Kit, with tips on how to enhance digital wellbeing like carrying out app cleanses and how to find clarity among confusing designs—all presented with soothing, natural visuals in line with modern lifestyle brands.

Following in the footsteps of social media, data is another aspect of modern life that consumers are learning to manage—one that is increasingly tied to overall wellbeing.

Moving forward, brands should help consumers find emotional equilibrium and build a healthy relationship with data.

Emily Safian-Demers is a Senior Trends Analyst with Wunderman Thompson Intelligence where she identifies cultural trends and shifts in consumer behavior, translating them into actionable insight for brands and marketers. Prior to joining Wunderman Thompson, Emily was the Senior Project Manager for the Ipsos Neuro & Behavioral Science Center, where she conducted innovative neuroscience research to help brands understand consumer emotion and motivation.

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