Verizon
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Verizon
This content was paid for by Verizon and produced in partnership with the Financial Times Commercial department.

Building trust:
brands and customers can benefit from a more transparent use of data

A new survey from Verizon and Longitude into consumer attitudes to data sharing provides brands with fresh insights into how best to build confidence and improve personalisation.

The pandemic has accelerated consumer reliance on many digital platforms including eCommerce, fitness apps, streaming sites and social media.

However, despite regulations such as GDPR, not all consumers are convinced by the transparency of brands and marketeers or that their intentions when capturing data are genuine.

The recent backlash against Facebook-owned WhatsApp over changes to its privacy policy and a mass migration to rival Signal demonstrated growing unease, particularly with a platform that has enjoyed more than its share of controversy.

Verizon recently published the results of its 'A Matter of Trust' consumer survey, which it carried out with Longitude.

The overarching conclusion is: tread carefully.

Interestingly, 64 percent of respondents said that they do not want the brands they interact with to obtain information about them from third parties. That unease about how data is used is shared by 57 per cent of 18-24-year-olds who are generally more comfortable sharing information.

“Issues can arise when data is taken out of context”

"Information gathered by third parties and then used by another brand may not be as filtered or pre-qualified as desired. Using it in the wrong way may actually damage a brand or even have a negative effect with the customers who originally supplied the data."

At the same time, the survey findings leave the door open for brands to engage respectfully, because it reveals that customers are not opposed to the idea of enhanced personalisation and accept there will be some trade-off with data:

Remarkably, the findings also reveal wide disparities in attitudes territorially, suggesting brands need to tread extra carefully in some countries such as Germany and South Korea, where comfort with data sharing is particularly low - just 29 per cent and 31 per cent approval respectively.

"It is important to conduct these types of surveys on a regular basis as attitudes change and culture differences are important to consider when personal data is being used," says Tomfohrde, "Many consumers do not wish their personal information to be shared with everyone, but often they do not realise that by using search engines and social media platforms their personal data may already be recorded and then shared without their knowledge."

"We're encouraging brands to consider what kind of relationship they want to have with their customers. They need to think through what kind of information they're capturing and how they're going to use it. Something that might seem expedient today from a revenue perspective, may not be wise long term, particularly if you're a traditional luxury brand that relies on a big discretionary purchase."

Data collection will soon be further complicated by Google's announcement that it is joining a growing list of browsers - that includes Safari and Firefox - removing third party cookies, the tracking technology whose purpose is targeting and advertising. Apple also recently declared its new operating system would require developers to ask users for permission to gather data and track them across mobile apps and websites.

“These changes to consent, the visibility they're going to give us as users, will be quite astonishing”

"There will be many things running in the background people will be made even more aware of. For this reason, the reliance on first party information will become more and more relevant if organisations want to create relationships. People expect transparency if you want to win their trust, that's absolutely clear from this report."

First party data was always valuable but the diminishing returns of third party data will increase its worth. Brands that want deeper insights from their customers will turn to other useful tools such as machine learning, but they will have to be open about it and demonstrate to customers how it benefits them because distrust with new technology runs deep.

"Historically some customer interactions have been unsatisfactory and it is easy to see how AI could deliver a better experience under good supervision," says Tomfohrde. "However, where machine learning is being used it is important for brands to have visibility as to where the AI is taking and using the data being gathered. By supervising this process the results obtained will be better for the business and more importantly, for the customer.

“My advice is simple, be open. Don’t pretend to consumers they aren’t interacting with a bot, don’t force them into interactions they don’t want; anonymise data locally and don't bring together huge concentrations of personally identifiable information because that can create problems later.”

The findings from 'A Matter of Trust' can help to provide a useful steer to brand owners and marketing staff about the future direction of personal data usage. The inference is that it should not be abused, which means they will have to prioritise building enhanced relationships with their customers. Any personalised customer experience will require integrity and transparency if it is to be effective and lasting but that in itself creates opportunity.

"Those brands and marketing managers who respect how customer data is used and foster open relationships will be the ones who will be able to reap the rewards," concludes Tomfohrde.

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