Forging customer connections in a privacy-obsessed world

Marketers today typically have access to a wealth of data about their customers and prospects, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. Contributor EJ McGowan advises how marketers can deliver personalized content while respecting customers’ privacy concerns

Forging customer connections in a privacy-obsessed world

The digital disruption that has revolutionized the way people communicate and do business has changed its course in recent years.

Where consumers had become accustomed to sharing their personal information in exchange for benefits and services from businesses, many are now feeling a growing concern for the privacy and security of this information and are less willing to share.

They’ve realized the drawbacks of putting their lives online, primarily that opening up their information to brands can invite marketing practices that are, at their worst, highly invasive.

Brands that use consumer data to target and reach their audiences are now faced with the challenge of addressing consumers’ reluctance to share while still meeting their business goals. They need to use effective marketing practices to acquire new customers, but also be cautious about not overstepping the boundaries these customers have put in place.

How can marketers walk this fine line without tripping up?

The catch

A key factor in the dilemma marketers face is the lingering consumer expectation for highly relevant, personalized content.

Consumers don’t want to share the intimate details of their lives, but they also don’t want to receive offers that have no relevance to them.

Unfortunately, without information about their customers, marketers have no way to produce and deliver content that’s personalized to their needs. What’s a marketer to do?

There are a few ways marketers can ensure they’re keeping their customers’ best interests, and identifiers, in mind and under wraps without abandoning their acquisition goals and strategies. Read on for best practices to build and maintain strong customer connections in today’s privacy-conscious world.

Keep it simple to start

You wouldn’t ask a prospective date for his or her name, address, phone number and credit card information before going on a first date. By the same token, marketers shouldn’t expect new prospects to share this information before they’ve gotten to know the brand. A long subscription form requesting detailed information will be far more likely to turn a trepidatious customer away rather than bring that person on board.

Instead, keep your form short and sweet by asking only for an email address and perhaps a first name.

While it may not seem like much, this information adds incredible value by getting prospective customers into your database. It’s on this foundation that you’ll then be able to build relationships with these subscribers and foster connections through continued engagement.

Personalize to a point

Marketers know well that the key to driving high-value engagement is relevant, personalized content. That said, consumers are quick to call out when brands take their targeting methods too far and become creepy. Marketers need to understand the privacy implications of using customer data for personalization, and should recognize that there’s a fine line that should not be crossed when personalizing elements of a campaign.

As a rule of thumb, use consumers’ personal information in a general sense to segment and deliver targeted messages, but withhold exact details on the individual. For example, geolocation data can help you send useful promotions and offers to consumers for nearby stores, but this content should never include the consumer’s home address or distance from home to the store.

Many marketers also collect subscribers’ birthdates to send special birthday promotions. When doing this, ensure that you never reveal the exact birthdate of the consumer, but rather focus on the week or month of the individual’s birthday. This enables you to reward and thank your customer without revealing a key personal identifier in an insecure communication.

Make subscription settings easy to update

Inviting a neighbor in for tea does not mean that they’re welcome for lunch, dinner and dessert every day. No one likes a nosy neighbor, and consumers have similar feelings towards nagging marketers. They are highly critical of marketers who send unsolicited content at a high frequency, especially if there is no option to change their communication preferences.

Recognize that the invitation to customers’ inboxes is a privilege, and take care not to lose it by inundating them with offers. Empower subscribers to set the guidelines for receiving content by providing a clear and easy way to update subscription settings or even unsubscribe.

Respect your subscribers’ choices, even if they result in a significant decrease in correspondence, and you’ll foster greater trust in your brand.

Keep financial information separate and secure

Data breaches in the U.S. have reached an all-time high, and every business has some level of vulnerability to getting hacked. More than ever, marketers need to be vigilant about how they’re protecting their customer data.

They need to have strict policies and processes in place that keep customers’ personal identifiers, and especially financial information, far away from hackers’ prying eyes.

To ensure data is safe and secure, build one system for financial information and another to store marketing data. Use an email marketing system to store the data you’ll need to customize and personalize your marketing content for each customer.

Then, keep credit card information and billing and shipping addresses in a distinct database with heightened security settings so it’s harder to exploit. The ramifications of a hack can destroy a business, so security is a worthwhile upfront investment for your company’s long-term survival.

As consumers become more and more concerned about their privacy and security, marketers need to reassure them that their personal information will be protected no matter what. They should ensure they have processes in place that keep customer data safe and secure, and  focus on building trust through transparency.

Keep in mind these best practices to foster strong connections with your customers and allay any concerns they may have, despite the privacy-conscious climate.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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