Privacy: The Next Great Brand Differentiator?

Chris WrenAugust 3, 20183 min

For those of us that regularly play in the digital space, we’ve known that for a large part, online privacy is often an illusion. If it wasn’t, privacy policies wouldn’t need to be as long as they often are. A watershed moment in the public’s awakening around privacy has to be the revelations unearthed by Edward Snowden. About the same time as Snowden leaked information about the NSA’s surveillance tactics, a number of high-profile data breaches at Target and Sony, celebrity photo hacks of Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, and the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica fiasco has kept privacy in the spotlight.

An article posted on MarTech today reviewed multiple Forrester studies on privacy attitudes and the rift between consumers and brands. Here are some top findings:

  • 61% of US adults expressed concern about the sharing of their data or online behaviors between companies.
  • Increasing numbers of consumers block ads (33%) and use browser do-not-track settings (25%).
  • Among 19 companies on a list that included “tech giants such as Apple and Google,” 35% of US online adults and 45% of European online adults said that they “don’t trust any” to safeguard their data.
  • Ninety-one percent of enterprises marketing to consumers said increasing use of data is a priority; only 71% said privacy protection was similarly a priority.
  • In a small enterprise survey, “… only eight of the 17 respondents said that they have technical and procedural controls in place to protect against the use of customers’ data in ways that fall outside their privacy policies.”

A lot of brands are beginning to fold in privacy messages. But too often, it seems (to me) they can feel like meaningless platitudes. Phrases like “We take privacy very seriously” and “Privacy is bred into our DNA” get tossed around a lot, but what do they mean? Or worse still, the brand may have great messaging on privacy and then take actions which, while legal, are ethically murky.

In November 2016, Admiral Insurance announced a new product, firstcarquote, which used Facebook profile posts to determine young drivers’ personality and risk profile. And just this morning, on The Today Show, a segment highlighted how insurance companies are creating models that aggregate available data from driver’s license, credit report and social media to either impact premium prices, or (as they say) create new offerings tailored to unique lifestyles. This data is freely available, and there’s a lot of it. The reporter on the segment had ordered a report from LexisNexis, and it was 400 pages long!

When it comes to differentiating on privacy, a brand like Apple is a powerful example. Because Apple makes its money off end-users, it can bank on encrypting all of that information and not using it. This is a huge differentiator versus Google, which makes most of its money from selling ads.

But as a counterpoint, one of Google’s reasons to exist is to find what’s useful in vast pools of data. So, while there is privacy traded for more relevant advertising, there is also added convenience for Android users to benefit from what all of that data can do. Colin Finkle gives this example, “The Google Now app can look at your email and location data and pop up your boarding pass on your Android phone before you get on your flight. These features are only going to get more powerful with advancement in artificial intelligence.”

As the supply of privacy decreases and demand increases it will certainly become more valuable. It’s possible that privacy will emerge as the next great brand differentiator. Clearly, privacy can carry the same weight of importance as top features and benefits. At a minimum, transparency around what data is collected and how it will be used should be easily available to customers. (I advocate for all brands becoming GDPR compliant regardless of if they are in the EU).

For brands that want to use privacy as a differentiator, it’s important to know what your customers value, and create policies and messaging (in that order) that align to those values. Further, ask yourself; (1) is privacy extremely important to our target consumer?, (2) is our organization uniquely suited to providing it?, (3) how well are our competitors addressing it?

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