How to implement data ethics for a competitive advantage

It’s more important than ever to clearly communicate your privacy-first credentials to your customers. Enter the personal data dashboard….

In his previous article for Performance Marketing World, J Cromack, Chief Growth Officer at Edit, shared his insight into why an ethical approach to data is so important for forward-looking brands, illustrated by innovative examples from early adopters/advocates of data ethics.

Businesses on the cutting edge of consent and preference management are already seeing the benefits of rolling out more ethical usage frameworks for customer data – primarily in the form of increased consumer loyalty and trust. But, as I previously detailed, the vast majority still need to catch up.

If you at least recognise the importance of adopting a more sophisticated and ethical approach to consumer data then congratulations – you’re ahead of the curve. Of course accepting the principle is one thing, knowing where to start on enacting an ethical data usage framework is another! The good news is there’s still plenty of time to establish your brand as a data leader (and gain a competitive advantage).

Outlined below are three initial steps your organisation can take to get the ball rolling to implement a genuine data ethics strategy that supersedes mere legislative compliance.

Clearly communicate your data policy to consumers

While it might sound simple, most brands fall at this first hurdle. Think about the last time you signed up for a product or service: do you remember what information you were asked for in doing so?

Were you clear on how that brand intends to use your data, or why? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, could you find the answers within the next ten minutes if you wanted to? Too often, data policies are hidden within dense text blocks of ‘terms and conditions’.

Often, this is done under the assumption that time pressures or a disinclination to wade through chunks of legalese will lead to consumers reluctantly scrolling through at lightning speed and clicking ‘accept all’.

There are two problems with this. First, consumers are wise to this trick – it comes across as disingenuous and will leave a sour taste for those that opt-in, which isn’t the best way to start a relationship.

Moreover, those who value data privacy are unlikely to sign up at all. A change of mindset is needed here. Your brand should view data exchange as an opportunity rather than a hurdle to overcome, or a box to be ticked. Data should be used to improve customer experiences.

So take this opportunity to tell them all about the innovative ways your product team could make their brand interactions better if they opt-in, and exactly what data would allow this to happen. Make it part of the experience, another opportunity to engage and build trust. If you treat data exchange as a chore, that’s how your customers will perceive it. But if you present it as a benefit that adds clear value they are much more likely to embrace it.

Give customers ongoing control via a data dashboard

Once you’ve decided to be more transparent with customers in your communication about the value exchange, it’s time to think about what more could be achieved through two-way dialogue on data.Best practice here dictates a shift away from one-off opt-in agreements to open data platforms. Ideally, customers should be able to access accurate real-time information about the data your organisation holds on them and how it is being used.

They should also be able to update their personal information preferences at any time. A proven method, one used by brands including Mercedes Benz and Uber, is to share control with consumers through a data dashboard that customers can access at any time.

Not only does it deepen the bond of trust with customers, keeping them updated on new features they could access if they provide additional data through the platform encourages data sharing - for the right reasons.

Ensure consent and preference information is easily accessible by third parties where required

Extensive safeguards need to be put in place to secure these dashboards, however it can be beneficial to give authorised third parties access within certain parameters, as agreed with the customer of course. For example, data regulators should be able to quickly and easily understand what customer information your organisation holds and where/how it is being used to demonstrate a proactive approach to compliance.

Holding customer information in a centralised repository will reduce the administrative burden of data access requests if your organisation receives one. Data teams will know exactly where to look and be able to fulfil the request efficiently, freeing up their time to focus on other tasks.

By engaging in a clear, open-ended dialogue with customers about how their data is used, your brand can take its first steps toward becoming an ethical data leader. These three steps represent a solid starting point, but this is just the beginning of what can be a very rewarding process.

Communicating effectively about a complex issue such as personal information can be tough, but if it’s handled well, the reputational and loyalty benefits are proportionally far greater than the effort required.

By J Cromack

Chief Growth Office