How pervasive is the relevance vs. privacy issue?
This summer, the White House issued its own plan to help protect consumers’ online privacy. Calling for an online privacy “bill of rights,” President Barack Obama said that American consumers “can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online.”
The glacial pace of policymaking aside, the national mindset certainly is shaped by digital giants like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. The marketing chiefs at companies like these exert an outsized influence on consumers and, by extension, on the culture itself.
Yahoo’s Kathy Savitt personifies the new corporate social-media visionary: a marketing leader who calls herself a “Generation Z maniac.” Business Insider describes her knowledge of teens’ musical habits as “startlingly detailed.”
Many in this newest generation of corporate influencers have a business upbringing in social-sharing platforms and location-based services. And even if these marketers seem to assume (see “startlingly detailed,” above) collecting personal data is the norm, it’s the consumer who will decide which companies best address their privacy concerns.
Digital marketers who give customers a chance to opt out of behavioral advertising have a clear advantage. A majority of respondents in a 2011 survey (Fig. 4) said they would be more inclined to do business with advertisers who offer the opt out, and more likely to click on an ad from those companies.
For advertisers who question the results of all these recent studies, a Pew Research Center report shows that social-media users even have privacy concerns with other users. An increasing number of U.S. Internet users are “pruning” their personal profiles, with more than 60% saying they deleted people from their friends lists, up more than 5% from the prior survey.
In the socially driven world of instant opinion sharing, businesses may need to consider a new model for their digital-marketing programs. Don Peppers, the relationship-marketing guru and inventor of the term “One-to-One Marketing,” bluntly assesses the prospects for businesses that don’t heed consumers’ calls for transparency.
“As the future becomes even more transparent,” says Peppers, “any company that isn’t genuinely trustable…will be exposed and completely out of business.”
Perhaps the gold standard for trust among marketers is American Express. The Ponemon Institute®, in their annual study of America’s most trusted companies for privacy, again ranked AmEx number one in 2011, the fifth consecutive year the financial-services giant topped the list.
According to AmEx spokesperson Kimberly Forde, the company’s commitment to customer security is nothing new. "Trust and security have been the hallmarks of the American Express brand for more than 150 years.”
The same Ponemon study reported that consumers feel they are losing control of their personal information. Not surprisingly, consumers now call security controls and accurate data collection “trust assets.”
Authenticity. Transparency. Customer-centricity. In what some are calling “the dawn of the relationship era,” these already familiar terms will only grow in importance as consumers exert more control over their relationships.
For the marketers who convert trust from a core value into a brand asset, the future looks bright. For those who don’t, the words of Don Peppers soon may be ringing in their ears.
Robert Calvanico is Client Services Director for Living Group, a London-based integrated digital and branding agency. He leads the Living team's New York office. Robert has held management positions at agencies such as Euro RSCG, Cossette Post and Blue Fountain. He is a passionate sports fan and music lover, and lives in Tribeca, New York City.