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Building Users’ Trust (and Better Customer Journeys)

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Smita Salgaonkar
Country Manager - Data & Digital Media, India

Building users trust written out

The richest currency that companies want to acquire is customer data. In today’s connected world, customer datasets with personally identifiable data are hardly in isolation. With each new customer activity, the Jenga tower of customer data grows taller and more unstable. I would propose then that the biggest currency is not just the customer data itself but also how it is used. Not only is customer data becoming harder to earn; cookie deprecation, increased privacy awareness and data privacy regulation are each challenging the data strategies that brands have relied on for years, leaving marketers to wonder what they should do to prepare.

Companies that don’t have privacy and transparency at the core of their data management strategy stand to have consumer trust hemorrhaging like a burst pipeline in the rain. While skepticism towards the collection and use of customer data grows, doubling down on earning users’ trust makes good marketing sense. 

At one of MMA’s Data Unplugged India Series, I was part of a panel discussion “Perspectives on the Evolving Online Data Environment” where we shared how businesses can prepare strategies for a user-first, privacy focused future. The following are my views on building users’ trust shared during the discussion, which I’m expanding on here.

Earning Users’ Trust

A recent survey by YouGov revealed that more than half of consumers are wary about sharing their data, as they don't want it to be misused surreptitiously. Consumers are tired of data breaches, invasive ads and opinion manipulation. Adding to that is the lack of knowledge on the use of cookies and how third-party tracking works. As a brand, if you can ethically convince your customers that they will benefit from the data exchange, they would be more likely to share. This revelation can help marketers in building their first-party strategies, on top of transparent forms of data collection such as loyalty programs, to establish long-term relationships between brands and their customers. 

However, before any first-party data (or 1P data) collection takes place, there must be a foundation of trust built with your audience and the onus falls on brands to keep users' data private and secure. A simple introspective exercise that I encourage my clients to follow whenever they aim to enhance customer profiles through data is to ask: what kinds of data are necessary, why and how it will be used, and whether it should be shared with an external party. 

My colleague Doug Hall, Senior Director of Analytics at Media.Monks, echoes this sentiment:  “Don’t just be legal, be righteous—it will give you a competitive advantage.” Privacy must be proactive and not reactive. It must also be preventative and not remedial. 

On a deeper level, it’s always a good practice to audit a business’s existing technology stack, no matter where the business is in its 1P data journey. An annual tech audit exercise helps businesses realign data priorities, get rid of redundant components or replace them with modern equivalents, and find opportunities in technology or skills that can boost 1P data capabilities.

Some areas to consider when auditing your tech stack for data privacy are:

  • Storage - Investing in keeping data safe and private should be on the forefront of any data collection exercise. Businesses can weigh the pros and cons of engaging a cybersecurity partner or establishing an in-house data security team against the data collected and how and where it is stored. 
  • Access - To address misuse of data, decide who are the essential personnel to have access to the data—is it marketing, data analysts or leadership? Hint: the fewer the better. Access can also be differentiated by the level of access (read or write) and scope of access (dashboard or entire list).
  • Portability - 1P data may be collected off- or online and from various sources. Hence, the data collected may be scattered across multiple systems. Integrating data from all touchpoints into a centralized system can be better for marketers to understand the entire customer journey and offers better control over access to data.
  • Activation - While modern martech systems are designed for customer data activation so that marketers can communicate with smart cohorts, the choice of method of activation matters greatly. Ingress and egress of unencrypted data into cloud stores or non-secured FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites or email is considered the least safe. Using direct activation connectors between systems is considered the safest, followed by encrypted or private data exchange between trusted cloud systems.

Early Adoption and Smarter Practices

Like learning a new sport, the more you practice a privacy-minded approach to gathering user data, the more capable you will become. Early preparation can lead to greater learning and benefits further down the line as solutions become more sophisticated over time. Also, algorithms that have been trained on greater amounts of data over time instill more confidence and accuracy. Businesses operating with 1P data for longer will also enjoy more help and attention from key technology partners, which improves relationships with customers, partners and stakeholders. 

Privacy is an urgent yet evolving concern that requires everyone in our industry to get together and operate with consensus. By testing, evaluating and sharing new strategies, the faster we come to a common understanding of how privacy should work.

As we pivot to building and using 1P data to manage durability and scale, many may fear that prospecting will be negatively affected, since the decision to share 1P data is voluntary and lies in users’ hands. Building trust by being transparent, open and verifiable—and showing how the data exchange would help them with better customer experiences—encourages shareability. Furthermore, educating consumers about periodically reviewing their privacy settings and how the data is being used and deleted when the app’s life comes to an end further solidifies that faith. This is important as future engagements become first-party driven and businesses seek to become unreliant on unsustainable methods of personalization, such as cookies and resettable device identifiers. 

In scaling 1P data to increase the number of successful journeys, four actions need to be operating in a cycle. 

  • First, marketers need to continuously invest in acquiring prospects and observe their journeys by collecting first-party and behavioral data at key checkpoints. 
  • Once they have that data, they can optimize it by clearing bottlenecks and obstacles throughout the customer journey, such as misplaced calls-to-action or ambiguous navigation.
  • Marketers must observe patterns in journeys that have successfully reached desired goals. This helps catalog and reason as to why some communications journeys perform better than the others.
  • And finally, marketers should select the prospect cohorts that best match desired goals, then recreate successful journeys through prompts and navigation tools on their platforms. All these are contextual environmental variables that brands can still fine-tune to build more relevant and tailored experiences.

Bringing on Desirable Results

As a net impact, strong and responsible data practices can help an organization mature and transform into a better version of itself. First-party data is at the heart of any digital maturity and transformation journey. It helps you to get to know your customers, your markets and your business better. Auditing existing strategies by asking the right questions will guide you on the path to instilling trust in your audience. This can also lead to better data hygiene and evaluate policies on data usage. 

The pandemic has exacerbated and accentuated the way we see the world and how we experience it—more so on what’s wrong and how we can fix it. Privacy is a crucial demand today and is a compliance game changer. For those looking for more strategies and to get clued up on shifting attitudes and regulations surrounding privacy, we’ve put together a report on how brands can navigate imminent privacy changes and get up-to-speed with consumer conversations.

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