Personal Information: the Case for Giving Customers Control

opt in personal information

The debate about who owns customers’ personal information and how organizations manage it continues to play out.

In January 2016, Accenture found most consumers lack confidence about the security of their personal information. More than half believe companies don’t do enough to earn their trust.

No surprise a (not-so-quiet) revolt is taking shape. Consumers are flocking to anti-tracking tools and ad blockers to secure their personal information data—and their online experiences. More and more intentionally supply incorrect information — such as fake email addresses and phony birthdates — when submitting personal details.

“Customers are tired of having their personal data gathered by unwelcome surveillance, fed to big data mills, and then being subjected to personalized marketing messages that are wrong most of the time,” explains Doc Searls, a former Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and author of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge from Harvard Business Review Press.

So what’s a marketer to do?

It’s time businesses put consumers behind the steering wheel and let them control how, when and where their personal information is used, Searls says. He points to a growing embrace of vendor relationship management as a method to calm the madness; as a shift from an “attention economy” to an “intention economy.”

What is vendor relationship management?

Vendor relationship management is a counterbalance to customer relationship management (CRM). The idea is to put consumers in control of their personal information, giving them ability to manage and even delete data when a business relationship ends.

How to get started?

The first step is a mental shift away from capture, acquire, manage and target. Instead, a vendor relationship management approach focuses on building relationships based on equality and value.

Offer real value

When customers receive value they will opt in. Think beyond coupons, promotions, attention-grabbing slogans and ads.

Panera and Starbucks, for example, offer standard promotions along with mobile order and payment through apps. The value is in the drop-dead simple way customers can order items, redeem offers and pay from a mobile app — all with a few taps of a finger. That amps up the relationship, says Antonella Mei-Pochtler, a senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group.

Focus on context, personalization and timing

Said differently: strive to reach customers at the right time and place with offers that matter.

Midwest grocery store chain Oberweis Dairy goes so far as to compare point-of-sale data to weather and dew-point information. The approach helps them understand which marketing campaigns and techniques are most effective for particular markets. It also helps them build opt-in marketing lists and greater loyalty.

Be transparent

Convey how exactly data is collected, managed and shared, including through partners and third-party relationships. For example, a website dashboard with checkboxes makes it easy to give customers control of how their personal information is managed and shared by a business.

“The drumbeat of breaches, along with some companies using personal data in a creepy way, has reignited unease and concern,” says UCLA information studies professor Leah Lievrouw.

Shifting more control of personal information to customers sends a message that your company understands the concern.

While giving customers greater control may lead to fewer opt-ins in the near term, there remains an opportunity to win the long game. It’s a better option than having your marketing efforts deleted, ignored or blocked.

Says Mei-Pochtler: “It’s all about creating value for everyone.”

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