How Should Businesses Balance Marketing Data Needs With Privacy Protection?

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Data marketing is important for any business to gather insight into their customer base to customize the experience while providing the services their base is wanting. Since data research has gone virtual, focus on private information has grown significantly. “More than 80% of people are worried about their online privacy” (Bleuwire). People are growing increasingly concerned their private information will be sold to third parties or stolen in a security breach within the company’s database. The Harvard Business Review claims that “84% of customers will abandon an online purchase if the website isn’t secure.” Most people are not convinced data marketing policies protect their privacy and will go out of their way to avoid any sites that do not protect their information. Wouldn’t you? With the growing threats of identity fraud and scam calls, the right to privacy is on the minds of many Americans while the need for data marketing grows more important to businesses. 

Data analytics is invaluable to a company to track current trends in their markets, consumer habits over time, show areas of concern or profit loss, and predict future outcomes in their business models. Some common information collected are:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location/places visited 
  • Profession/income
  • Time spent driving/routes
  • Email/web browsing history/other online habits

To entice customers to agree to privacy policies, many companies offer perks alongside creating an account, such as discounts, free shipping, reward points, and other exclusive offers for members. This creates a sense of brand loyalty in the customer as they had a good experience with your site, got a bonus perk, and their information is now saved, making future purchases easier. Algorithms track their purchasing patterns, easily offering them more purchase options tailored to their tastes, increasing profits for your site. 

People gravitate towards business not only from advertising but also by recommendations from their social circles. Creating a public image of integrity is vital for any company to have a customer base that trusts them. Without this, even the most sound business ideas will crumble. A single negative review can quickly escalate into an online swarm of distrust. Protecting private data within effective marketing analytics is both possible and necessary to grow your company. A few simple steps to protect your customers’ private information can also protect your company from an avalanche of complaints that would accumulate if security measures were breached. 

There are several ways to increase security on your company website and when combined, significantly increase protection for both your business and your customers. Make sure your privacy terms and condition agreements are readily available. Be upfront and open about what information is gathered from customers and how it is collected. The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2020 increased security measures for companies and options for people  to manage what information is shared and how to opt out. People can now request access to their collected data and modify or delete as needed for their own security. Some requirements to follow are:

  • Provide a conspicuous privacy policy on your websites 
  • The privacy policy must outline in detail what information is collected from users and how/with whom it is shared
  • You must comply with the privacy policy as posted. Any changes in the outlined practices must be updated immediately and all consumers notified

Failing to protect user data (even in the case of a security breach) is a violation of US Federal Trade Commission regulations. You must provide the privacy policy in its entirety on your website as well as have all new users agree to the terms. Don’t mislead or omit any data you are collecting or what will be done with the information. A customer cannot truly consent to the terms if they are not fully informed of what they are agreeing to. Let your customers know what exactly is being collected, how it will be used, and assure them top security measures are in place. As most legal documents are full of legal and technical jargon, provide brief summaries along with your full privacy policy to clarify what information is collected and what you will do with it. Assure them their information will not be sold to any third party affiliates and will be kept secure at all times. If your customers have any doubt about the security of your website, you’ve lost them. 

You may have hired a digital marketing agency or analytical software to collect and store customer data. As tempting as it may be to collect extra information for a rainy day, only collect the data you require for marketing analytics to promote and deliver the company’s product or services. Collecting additional information may seem like a good idea for future analytical needs but it is an ineffective strategy that is risky for your customer. Gathering more information than necessary is a waste of effort as it takes up additional storage space as well as creates an organizational nightmare, both which require extra resources to maintain. The less you have to sort through for marketing analytics the better. Minimal data mining is better for both you and your customer in terms of safety and efficiency. Requesting extra information also increases risk for your customer in the (increasingly likely) scenario your systems are hacked, as more of their private information can be leaked. Have you ever had your identity compromised? Does the neverending paperwork that ensued still haunt your dreams? Your hoard of personal and detailed information can attract hackers to your site as this information is vital to identity theft, creating a potential nightmare for you and your customers. They may also be put off from using your site if they get the sense they are being farmed for information with too many pesky, personal questions. So yes, more data may seem beneficial but it only is if it is in the niche areas of interest pertaining to your business needs. Otherwise it is a waste of cyberspace and a security threat. 

Another important step is to make sure all information gathered is encrypted and stored on a private server. Keep your privacy software current when new updates become available. Any delays could put your company and customers at risk of having information stolen. Having your customers create user accounts with unique passwords they change often is an additional step to protecting their privacy. Requiring strong passwords that include special characters and numbers provides an additional layer of security to their accounts. Most of us tend to reuse the same passwords for many accounts, such as bank accounts and credit cards. Adding special elements to the passwords your system requires so that users have to create a unique password minimizes any potential risk to their other accounts if there is a breach in data security with your company. You can also offer two-step authentication features which add additional security when signing in by having your customer confirm their identity on another device they have previously registered with you. If someone does manage to snag their password, this additional step will alert your customer of any login attempts along with a link to follow if they need to report any suspicious notifications to you. Stopping security breaches early is vital to minimizing the damage they cause. 

Protecting your customer’s privacy will continue to be important to the business world as more establish an online presence to keep up with customer demands. Although it may feel at times that privacy is a dying construct, it is a prioritized concern for most people. If any of their sensitive information was leaked, customers could have their bank accounts emptied, credit cards opened in their names, their addresses and social security numbers could also be exposed. Your data security needs to be in place to protect customer privacy. You need to implement it in every company and examine it regularly to ensure it is up to current standards. Any breaches must be squelched immediately and all your affected customers notified so they can best protect themselves against identity fraud. Hundreds of companies have had their customer’s information stolen from what they thought were secured databases and offered their clientele months or years of identity fraud protection services as a way to make amends and maintain their customer base. Customers can spend years trying to remedy the negative effects of a company’s data breach so it is vital to reassure your customer base of your procedures for protecting their privacy and how you will help in the event of a leak. 

Some data breaches are expected as hackers are always on the lookout for ways to get around your security measures to steal valuable data. It is a constant game of cat and mouse between people who want to protect data and those who want to steal it for personal gain at the expense of others. Companies that make privacy a priority and minimize the amount of data they collect will benefit their customers and earn their loyalty. Establishing proper procedures and an efficient organizational system will help your data marketing efforts go much smoother to provide your business with the analytical information it needs to continue to cater to their customers and thrive in a virtual business market. 

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