Commentary

Why The Data Ethics Conversation Should Be On Every Brand's Agenda

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 13, 2021

The marketing ecosystem is going through rapid change, as platforms jostle for dominance and consumers look to brands to do the right things. In an age when organizations are increasingly embracing data-driven marketing, consumers are becoming conversely concerned about data privacy and how their data is used. This increasing tension in our data-driven era is resulting in leading brands placing data ethics at the top of their strategic roadmaps. 

As we move into 2022, we need to start thinking about how brands build trust among their customer bases, particularly in a world where people are expressing concern over companies’ commitments to using their data in a responsible and ethical manner. 

Consumers feel they have lost control of their data 

Consumers feel that they have less control over their own data and what enterprises do with it today than they have historically. Moreover, nine in 10 people agree that it’s difficult to know how organizations are using their data these days. Suffice to say, majority of people believe organizations are sneaky about how they collect data. 

One effect of consumers’ suspicious reaction to brands’ data ethics is that it makes it harder for brands to gain access to the data they need to drive personalized and efficient customer engagements. This inability to speak to consumers with relevance, in contrast to competitors, creates an ever-widening gap between organization and consumer.  To this end, ethical data use is not just an industry best practice, but a competitive advantage. 

Data ethics are not just about data 

But perhaps even more important is the wider impact of data ethics on a brand’s reputation among consumers. Consumers see data ethics as a reflection of a brand’s ethics and values in general. If a company uses data unethically, a consumer might wonder what else is happening behind the scenes. 

This picture is further complicated by the reality that companies and customers may have different perspectives on what data ethics are. For consumers, unexpected uses of their data, even if harmless or beneficial to them, feels like a betrayal. In fact, that feeling of betrayal could be equivalent to a company deliberating misleading them about how their data is used, or if it was sold without their permission.  

What this shows is that data ethics can’t be treated as a box ticking exercise. There needs to be a real commitment to doing the right thing for the consumer—and a willingness to look at ethics from the consumer’s perspective. For companies to seize the high ground in the data ethics debate, it’s imperative that they:

Take an enterprise-wide approach: It’s not enough to create data standards, guidelines and governance in siloed data functions. An enterprise ethical data strategy that is led from the top is imperative.

Go beyond compliance: Businesses cannot assume compliance is enough to meet consumers’ expectations. Consumers are becoming less worried about data security and compliance, and more concerned about where their data is being sold, to whom and what organisations are using it for without their knowledge.

Be transparent: Our survey finds a pervasive lack of trust because respondents do not think companies are being open about how their personal data is managed and used. Companies can reduce consumers’ concerns and address misconceptions by showing what they are doing with personal data, as well as how and why they are doing it.

Give customers control: Leading brands are giving customers easier and more granular control over the data they provide and the permissions they give to use it.

Rebalance the value equation: Progressive brands are not just thinking about how they can profit more or achieve better marketing outcomes by using customer data—they are also thinking about how that data can be used to create mutually beneficial value with customers.

Deploy new technologies with care for the consumer: Companies should be cautious when deploying new data strategies and technologies—particularly those that may feel intrusive, like predicting personal behavior or facial and voice recognition. They should move beyond the often-confusing language of liability and work to be transparent about their intentions when deploying new experiences or technologies and seek consumers’ explicit permission when they plan to use their data in new ways.

We have arrived at a moment where innovative organizations can blaze new trails for data transparency and ethics. This approach will not only empower these companies to leverage first-party data to make advertising more relevant, effective and personal—it will also have a halo effect on consumer trust in the brand’s values and ethics, far beyond its use of data. 

 

 

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