Technology has radically changed the way customers interact with companies. In some ways, the new reality is less intrusive for buyers: online content allows buyers to self-educate before getting on a sales call. However, the tracking of online data has led to questioning how this new way of doing business might impact privacy. Marketers are constantly told that their campaigns should align with the interests and preferences of potential customers, which begs the question: Do prospects prefer relevant content (defined by digital data) or is privacy their main concern? How much do people really care about protecting their data from marketers if it means receiving more relevant messages from trusted companies?

Answers to this question can vary from person to person. Age, culture, past experiences, and digital savviness may all contribute to an individual’s perception of how much digital data they are comfortable with companies using in a bid to win their business. However, most concerns are less about data collection as a concept (after all, taking down someone’s information is a normal part of doing business) and more about how that data is used over time. Ethical and transparent use of data can go a long way in winning over customers.

To help with the “dos and don’ts” of using prospect data, we looked into some recent research on people’s attitudes towards digital privacy and targeted marketing. We hope this article helps you to use data to connect meaningfully with your customers without making them feel uneasy.

Defining privacy in a digital world

Almost every day, you consent to sharing information about yourself. Whether it’s telling a personal story at the water cooler or presenting your credit card for payment, you divulge information about who you are and what you do to individuals and businesses. If much of your activity takes place online, you are likely using websites and digital platforms as a means of sharing that data. Understandably, those communications are used to inform future communications – much the same as a person wishing you “Happy Birthday!”each year once they become aware of the date. .

If someone knowingly provides information and you use it the way they intended, it is not a privacy concern. Privacy only becomes an issue when a person might feel their data is being “stolen” or misused; that is, if it is collected without their knowledge or shared between parties. People have varying levels of sensitivity about this issue, but there are three lessons we have gleaned from studies on privacy trends.

Lesson #1: Use encryption and exclude personal information to help consumers manage who sees their identity

It can be helpful for a company to remember someone’s data. Certainly, it makes it much easier to find relevant information, get support, and complete a transaction. Many people appreciate a personalized approach in B2B Marketing – for example, receiving emails about a product for which they have shown interest is much more helpful than being bombarded with generic branded messages. This is why many buyers readily share information with companies as they engage with its content and offerings.

However, the ability to manage who gets that data remains important to consumers. According to Pew Research, 93 percent of Americans say it is somewhat or very important to be in control of who can get what information about them. Additionally, 90 percent of people value the ability to control what information is collected about them. The more personal the information, the more control they wish to have over who has access.

Marketers can respect these consumer values by encrypting sensitive data, especially when sharing it between parties. A perfect example is the way predictive analytics tool Lattice Engines shares data about consumer behaviour.  Its dashboard allows marketers to see how consumers are behaving across multiple websites and industries, but it does not share information about those customers’ individual identities. In this way, you are able to see data from an online user without connecting it to their identity (unless, of course, they have given you permission).

Lesson #2: Remind people why you have their email address.

One of the most highly defended pieces of information consumers share with companies is their email address. People often respond negatively to emails from companies which have not been given clear permission to email them (for example, those who got their email information from a purchased email list).

One way to build trust and show you respect privacy is to remind people why you have their information so they do not feel it was “stolen.” This is especially true for those who opted into your list through a less obvious means, such as downloading a lead magnet or attending a trade show. Developing an email sequence that connects how you got the person’s email with the message you wish to share is also a good idea, both for continuity of your message and to show respect for their privacy.

Lesson #3: Be mindful of privacy-protecting tactics your prospects may use.

When building your digital marketing strategy, keep in mind that people will not always play by your rules. Your prospects may clear their web cookies, use a temporary email for opt-ins, or provide incorrect information in a web form. Validating information is just as important as collecting it, so be sure to consider this when developing your lead management framework. If someone gives multiple names for the same email address, or vice versa, your system should not automatically pass each of these down to Sales as individual leads. Similarly, you should not wholly depend on cookies to support your marketing strategy – if someone deletes or opts out of this tracking, you should still be able to greet them with a website that is compelling (albeit less personalized).

According to Pew Research, some privacy-protecting efforts are more common than others:

The vast majority of respondents – 91% – had not made any changes to their internet or cell phone use to avoid having their activities tracked or noticed. Only 7% reported that they had made these kinds of changes in “recent months.

At the same time, a much larger group had engaged in some everyday obfuscation tactics and privacy-enhancing measures…Some of the more common activities include:

  • Clearing cookies or browser history (59% have done this).
  • Refusing to provide information about themselves that wasn’t relevant to a transaction (57% have done this).
  • Using a temporary username or email address (25% have done this).
  • Giving inaccurate or misleading information about themselves (24% have done this).
  • Deciding not to use a website because they asked for a real name (23% have done this).”

    Pew Research

This information should not dissuade you from using data-centered approaches and personalized content – these efforts are still welcomed and appreciated by the majority of prospects. For the most part, people who use tactics to avoid tracking employ these measures selectively; for example, they may use a fake name with an untrusted website, but share personal details with a known brand with whom they actually wish to do business.  Having a trusted brand and a seamless funnel can help to reduce these incidences, while building a strategy that does not completely rely on data provided by your prospect can help as well.

Digital privacy is about control, not about lack of sharing

There are many benefits to sharing information with trusted companies online. The majority of your web visitors allow and even appreciate certain tracking when it optimizes their experience with your website.

However, these benefits only exist if you are good stewards of their data: using encryption to prevent a data breach, keeping them informed about why you have their information, and building the trust needed to avoid diversion techniques.  By understanding why people are concerned about privacy and incorporating these lessons into your Marketing strategy, you can build a system that has a meaningful impact on even the most skeptical online browsers.