Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Data privacy helps brands put people over profits

By Nina Müller, Director of The Ethical Commerce Alliance

With progressive brand values now becoming a ‘must have’ for consumers, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has never felt more important. From sustainable supply chains to diverse recruitment policies, businesses are putting their best foot forward to communicate their values.

There is one element, however, that’s neglected and needs greater attention – data privacy. It’s crucial that businesses respect consumers’ digital rights, as our lives become more embedded in the digital ecosystem. That means everything from the way businesses collect data to how it’s used needs to be communicated transparently and in a way that demonstrates consumer privacy is a priority.

Without explaining the reasoning behind the use of data, your brand values won’t come full circle to consumers. The missing explanation fosters mistrust, creating a dissonance between the brand’s positioning and consumers’ perception of it. Purpose can’t exist without privacy and with brands increasingly falling under consumers’ ethical microscope, it’s time to put digital rights at the top of the agenda.

Why intrusive data practices scare consumers and stun businesses

As businesses try to cut through the noise to reach consumers through personalised experiences, data has become a crutch. Whilst providing consumers with improved and tailored experiences, the current model is so reliant on personal data, that it can jeopardise a brands social responsibility.

Individuals should expect to be the owners of all their personal data and to be given the choice of whom to share it with. Sharing information collected with third-party advertising providers harms this digital right, yet it is a common practice. It’s no surprise that the majority of Brits are worried about their data being tracked, captured and sold on to advertisers.

Businesses feel this impact too as over half of consumers will change their shopping habits to avoid businesses from tracking their purchases through cookies. Not only are consumers sheltering themselves from this brand behaviour, but their affinity towards brands who have this mindset are significantly derailed.

Cultivating a relationship that isn’t built on reciprocal interest will only damage a brand’s recognition and reputation. The customer deserves more respect and trust to make the right choices as it’s in their interest to find the right products as well. Presenting random adverts to consumers based on outdated information is not supportive, just a strain on marketing budgets.

A mindset shift can shield consumers online data

For any brand that aims to elevate its standards, data protection cannot be neglected. To safeguard consumers’ data, we must see a mindset shift. One that is less focused on short-term profits, but rather centred around the customer, meeting them with honesty, transparency, and respect.

A first simple step to achieving this is assessing the data that is collected and processed: Which ones are actually needed? Which trackers and analytics tools are in use? Letting go of lots of unnecessary personal data processing liberates businesses from the baseline GDPR alignment and gives more space for action. Going beyond the GDPR baseline also means being protected from data leaks and potential lawsuits.

Another way of transforming your data standards is a check of privacy policies: They should contain plain language so that customers can understand its meaning in context and feel their data is handled transparently. This goes back to the mindset needed to align brand behaviour with purpose – privacy is a social responsibility, not just a legal or even fiduciary duty.

Protection around consumers’ data is essential to achieving true brand purpose. As we re-evaluate and educate consumers around ways to protect their online data, businesses must embed respect, control, and transparency into their processes.

Being radical with data transparency is a good thing

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘data is king’ but businesses that continue to implement intrusive practices need to ask themselves does the end justify the means?

To truly spotlight your brand’s purpose, consumers need to see a radical shift in the way business is done. Content was once deemed as king, but brands like Lush have shown consumers that it’s possible to remain a cosmetic-industry leader with their social media blackout. Patagonia further proves radical stances win consumers over, as they put environmental issues at the heart of every business decision. Clearly, going against the status quo doesn’t hinder businesses’ performance, rather, blossoms it.

Many companies appoint Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officers to help businesses extend their responsibility as an entity catered towards society in the way Lush or Patagonia has done so. A large part of this responsibility includes protecting customer data to re-establish trust at the heart of any commercial transaction.

This same mindset can be applied to ecommerce businesses by removing cookies and consent banners. Not only can businesses gain newfound respect from customers, but they can have a widespread impact on society; after all, a rising tide lifts all boats. By aligning words with actions, business values and ethos can come full circle.

This is the key to holistically achieving purpose, showing consumers that your business puts people over profit. It’s vital we embrace non-intrusive data practices and transparency as businesses look to become a force for good.