Introducing the talk was Facebook’s privacy policy manager Sinead Connolly, who talked about how the narrative around data has changed in the last year and become much more negative. 

It is easy to see why that is when you consider the enormous amount of (rarely positive) press around data privacy, not to mention the horrendous abuse people suffer from telemarketing companies. 

People are growing wise to their data and how it is being bought and sold, and they are starting to resist it.

Hence the rise of sites like DuckDuckGo or the increasing use of ad blockers. 

Brandt believes that all is not lost, however, and highlighted five key focus points that could help brands rebuild trust with consumers around data and ensure the future success of this increasingly data-driven economy. 

Those five key points are:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Value exchange
  3. Control and cognitive load
  4. Transparency, education and data literacy
  5. Industry leadership

Liz Brandt

liz brandt ctrl-shift

Let’s go into those points in a bit more detail…

1. Collaboration

“Seeing regulation and the market as opposing forces is short-sighted,” Brandt says. 

A fair point perhaps, but it’s easy to see why the relationship between government regulators and private businesses is somewhat tepid. 

Having worked in a couple of frequently audited firms in my time I’ve seen first-hand how frustrating it can be to have to jump through hoops just to get the right tick on an inspector’s piece of paper. 

It’s extremely time consuming, and so brands are programmed to respond cautiously to government prying. As Brandt puts it: “They say no until they’re forced to say yes.”

But that relationship needs to change, Brandt argues, if we want to overcome all the challenges around data and privacy.

Business needs to forget the old way, change its relationship with government and start collaborating. 

2. Value exchange

This is one so few companies seem to get. If you’re asking somebody to provide their data – quite a big ask when you really think about it – what are you really giving them in return?

In his earlier talk, DMA Group CEO Chris Combemale cited a fairly alarming stat that only 7% of consumers believe they get better value than the brand in question when they share their data. 

It’s all take take take, as far as the consumer is concerned. 

Research by Econsultancy and Acxiom shows that, at the very least, consumers expect improved customer service in exchange for data.

For example, respondents felt that companies should only ask for their personal information once, and should use that data to provide personalised service.

Q: To what extent do you expect the following as a result of providing personal information?

Whether that’s a perception issue or a reflection of reality doesn’t matter, because the end result is the same: consumers having a lack of trust in brands when it comes to sharing their data. 

Combemale also mentioned a 4OD video campaign starring Alan Carr that aimed to rebuild trust in consumers, and it’s a great example of transparency around collecting data. 

channel 4 our promise data trust video

If you don’t have the time nor capacity to watch the video, it effectively says: ‘Look, we get you’re worried about giving us your data, but all we want to do is personalise your experience and make sure we give you the best service possible. We won’t sell it or show it to anyone else, we won’t send you marketing guff, it’s all for your own good.’

A compelling message. The only thing I would add, however, is that if you make these types of claims you better make damn sure you follow up on them.

Not doing so would almost certainly destroy any chance of trust you have in future.

The point of all this is: consumers need to feel like they’re getting something of genuine value in return for providing their data. 

And if they’re not, perhaps you need to rethink your business model. 

3. Control and cognitive load

This one is all about how to keep control over data while simultaneously reducing the amount of time and effort you spend on that control. 

Brandt discussed services that exist now where firms control where consumers’ data goes on their behalf. She mentioned Saveawatt in New Zealand, a company that takes people’s data and uses it to find the best electricity deals for them. 

But it all comes down to trust again, Brandt argues. And without that trust you are bever going to persuade people to hand their data over without a fight. 

Brandt referred to the fact that Google Compare recently closed down – arguably caused by people’s growing disillusionment with how Google handles consumer data – while Cheap Energy Club has more than 2m users. 

Trust, as with anything in the world of consumer data these days, is critical. 

4. Transparency, education and data literacy

Key to building trust around consumer data is transparency, but also education. 

Looking back to that 4OD video, it states, in a not entirely patronising way, exactly what is going to happen to people’s data once they hand it over. 

Clearly 4OD is being transparent, but it’s also educating customers, many of whom probably had no idea what really happened to their data and some of whom might have assumed something sinister happened to it. 

The point is: don’t just assume that consumers are aware of what you’re doing with their data. Tell them explicitly what you’re going to do with it and tell them up-front before they agree to hand it over. 

Again, if you’re not comfortable doing that then perhaps you need to re-think what you’re doing with your customers’ details. 

Then there’s data literacy. It is an increasingly broad and technical field, one which most people couldn’t hope to understand from top to bottom. 

But as a society – government, businesses, individuals – we need to work together to improve data literacy in general. Once everyone understands data better they will naturally become less distrusting. 

Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. 

5. Industry leadership

“We must be looking to industry to lead,” Brandt says. “There is so much it can do.”

Brandt talked about the UX world and how UX designers are all linked in a global network, which means new developments are quickly adopted as best practice across the board. 

This is a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, she argues, citing an example of airline companies including a tick-box to opt out of insurance within a scrolling list of countries, whereby users have to scroll through the list to actually spot it. 

That’s bad UX and bad from a consumer trust point of view. 

“Corporates need to set the agenda,” Brandt says. 

What we’re hearing overall is a big, big, big leadership gap. Corporates need to stand up and start showing the way forward.

The issues within the growing data economy affect everyone, and if business leaders don’t take action now then the next few years will be much more painful than they need to be.