How advertisers can ease big data anxiety

Who’d have thought it? Data gets people more agitated than a Donald Trump supporter at a Hillary Clinton rally. New research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing suggests that people are “bewildered and fearful” of companies sharing their personal information.

Major incidents such as the hacking of data from 500 million Yahoo! accounts do little to ease fears. Data security is undoubtedly an issue and breaches happen. Better safeguards, in the case of Yahoo! and others, are needed for sure. But the main issue, for advertisers, is that they fail to persuade people to read their terms and conditions. This creates a significant gap in customer understanding of how personal information will be used.

This consumer anxiety seems paradoxical because people know no fear when posting their deeply personal information on social media. The big issue here is that some brands’ business models are built on data, while others use people’s personal information as a means to an advertising end. And it is the former – the brands built on data – which upset more people than the latter. A strange outcome given our online behaviour.

Let’s consider the ten leading websites in the UK. Google (.uk and .com), YouTube, Facebook, Ebay, Yahoo! and Twitter feature alongside BBC, Amazon and Wikipedia. Seven of them wouldn’t be in business, let alone free to use, without leveraging users’ data.

Looking at the three exceptions, Amazon would still make money, albeit somewhat less successfully, because it sells goods, not information. Wikipedia is all about data sharing, but it’s just not its business model as the site owes its existence to the largesse of Jimmy Whale and the generosity of the public. Then there’s, which doesn’t need to use data in the same way because we fund the online service by paying an annual licence fee of £145.50 for owning a colour telly.

The point is, if we don’t let companies share our data then we will lose some of our most used brands. Their revenue model will collapse and it won’t be met by subscriptions, as people won’t pay. In other words, advertising makes the internet go round. Data and its use in advertising is what keeps content from going behind paywalls.

Most customers are clear on what they can do to minimise abuse of their data. They generally know to ignore something that arrives in their inbox and looks too good to be true. They also know that completing a questionnaire to download “free” content will mean that their information is shared.

But advertisers can do more to ease people’s anxieties around data use. There is one definite piece of best practice advice: be transparent. And brands can build on this in the following ways:

  • Explain to people upfront why using their data matters.
  • Be clear and up-front about it.
  • Stop using technical legalese to make privacy points.
  • Use language people understand to make it clear that the benefit of using their data is that you provide your service free of charge.

The erosion of trust between advertisers and their customers is a growing issue, but it’s amazing how much of this can be repaired with a clear, honest, approach to data. And, it’s worth remembering, data drives innovation. Without big data there’s no Uber and it’s back to queuing at your local bank between 10am and 3pm.

Ben Rachel, founding partner and planning director, Soul

You can read the full article published in data IQ.