Why Privacy is Critical to Your Online Marketing Strategy

Privacy Practices That Build Consumer Trust

Alexys Carlton
Mar 25, 2020 · 7 min read
Featured photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Your company has spent significant time perfecting your consumer journey. You’ve crafted attention-grabbing advertisements and optimized your search results. Your website is engaging. Your checkout or sign-up process is smooth up until the final “submit.” But, did you consider the privacy concerns your consumers brought with them on their journey?

This article examines why privacy is an essential component of your marketing strategy and highlights privacy practices that build consumer trust.

Why Marketers Should Care About Privacy

A lot has happened to your consumers in recent years. One in three Americans has had their data compromised. Snowden leaked classified information that revealed the NSA’s mass surveillance program. Snapchat users found out that their pictures do not disappear. Cambridge Analytical harvested and politically used the data of over 87 Million Facebook users. An average of 302 billion spam e-mail messages were sent every day this past February. This list continues.

Most consumers do not trust online service providers. Even before they start their journey, 81% of consumers believe they have no control over what your company will do with their data once they share it with you. They bring this perception into their decision-making process.

Forty-five percent of online households reported that these [privacy and security] concerns stopped them from conducting financial transactions, buying goods or services, posting on social networks, or expressing opinions on controversial or political issues via the Internet.

Goldberg, 2016.

According to a PwC global survey, ‘trust in the brand’ is a top reason consumers choose to shop at a specific retailer. Data handling practices that meet consumer privacy expectations is one way to build consumer trust. As a marketer, you have unique skills that can turn privacy into a competitive advantage for your company.

But, My Consumers Do Not Care About Privacy

There is a misconception that people do not care about privacy. Sometimes, despite people saying they are concerned about their privacy, we witness behaviors that demonstrate otherwise. For instance, a person will share a post on Facebook about their outrage about the Cambridge Analytical scandal. However, they keep their Facebook account. This behavior is an example of the Privacy Paradox.

The Privacy Paradox simplifies our decision-making process by holding the assumption that privacy concerns alone drive our decisions to share information. Our decision-making process is not simple. At a minimum, consumers weigh the benefits, the risks, and whether they trust the company before sharing their data. The Privacy Paradox also assumes that the average consumer can identify the privacy risks present in the data exchange. I’m a privacy technologist, and at times, the privacy risks are not always apparent to me. The Privacy Paradox is an exciting phenomenon that deserves academic research. It does not, however, provide evidence to conclude people do not care about their privacy.

The Privacy Paradox is not an excuse to not integrate privacy into your marketing strategy. Your consumers care about their privacy. It is your company’s responsibility to inform your consumers of how you use and protect their data and to make the data exchange fair. It is your role as a marketer to use privacy to help instill consumer trust in your company.

Privacy Practices that Build Consumer Trust

Simply collecting personal data from consumers makes them feel vulnerable. It is crucial to recognize that your consumers may be in a vulnerable state when you ask for personal information. Acknowledging that they feel vulnerable will allow you to find ways to decrease their concern and encourage them to share their data.

“Vulnerable consumers are more likely to feel violated and lose trust in a company, ultimately leaving them prone to switch to a competitor.”

Robert Palmatier and Kelly Martin, The Intelligence Marketing’s Guide to Data Privacy.

The specific privacy practices your company needs to utilize to build consumer trust depends on several factors. Your consumers’ concerns, the product or service you offer, and the type of personal information you collect or use all impact the practices to use. For instance, your strategy will be different if you sell products that may embarrass the consumer if made public (e.g., sexual or health-related products) compared to general products. Conducting market research in conjunction with working along side privacy professionals will help you identify the privacy practices needed to reduce consumers’ privacy concerns and build their trust.

There are, however, several privacy practices in include in your marketing strategy to build trust, regardless of your business model or consumer base.

Be Transparent

An easy to read, visible, and transparent privacy notice builds trust. Research indicates that the presence of a privacy notice, regardless of what it says, increases consumers’ trust. Ensure the privacy notice is visible any time you are asking the consumer for personal data (e.g., pop-ups, forms, communications, surveys).

The long privacy notice does not always adequately inform your consumers, especially since they rarely read these notices. A Just in Time privacy notice may be appropriate for some data collections, such as when the data collection is not obvious to the consumer. For instance, it may be helpful to use tooltips in forms explaining how your company uses each piece of personal information. To identify areas that need a Just In Time privacy notice, ask a cross-functional team to spend time reviewing all data collection experiences from the consumer’s perspective.

Give Consumers Control Over Their Data

Providing consumers privacy choices builds trust. The majority of consumers believe they have no control over their data. Demonstrate that they still control their data after they share it with your company. There are a variety of ways to provide these choices, including but not limited to, the following:

  • Marketing communication opt-in and out options
  • Profile visibility settings
  • Optional data fields
  • Cookie consent and settings
  • Provide ways for consumers to access, update, and delete their information

Limit Data Fields Collected

Asking for personal information that is not related to the purpose of the data exchange may seem unfair to the consumer. We have all been in situations where we are asked for certain personal data that gives us pause, such as being asked your phone number when checking out at a grocery or retail store.

Your consumers are experienced. They know what information they generally have to provide to recieve a good or service. There are two negative outcomes possible when you ask for more information than what is needed. The consumer may choose to abandon their cart or not sign up for the service. Or, they may provide false or fake personal data to complete the transactions, which will muddy up your data set.

Where possible, limit the fields collected to only the data required for the purpose of the collection. If you to ask for more information than what is necessary for the transaction, ensure these fields are optional and make it clear why you are asking for the data.

Avoid the “Creepy”

Even if you are fully transparent, the collection technologies and algorithms your company uses may be too sophisticated for the average consumer to understand. As a result, a highly personalized advertisement may creep them out.

Some Facebook advertisements provide great examples of creepy marketing. For years, people have accused the Facebook app of using the microphone to listen to their conversations. Users claim Facebook will present them with advertisements based on an in-person conversation they had with someone. Facebook denies these actions, and researchers have not been able to prove it. It is presumed that Facebook can predict the conversations you may have with others to serve these ads. Facebook’s predictions are made possible by their rich data collection practices and algorithms.

Before sending out a campaign, consider asking whether your consumer will understand how you knew the information used in the personalized advertisement. Furthermore, consider whether your consumer would find the use of this information acceptable for marketing purposes (e.g., sexual orientation, religion, health data).


Building and maintaining consumer trust in your brand requires a dedicated team effort. The marketing team is not responsible for developing privacy practices. As a marketing professional, you should, however, know the consumer better than anyone else in the company. You should understand the privacy concerns they have, and be their voice when designing the consumer journey. Under utilizing privacy in your online marketing strategy may continue to leave your consumers feeling vulnerable, until eventually, they’ll choose competitors with a robust privacy strategy.

Since consumers want a better choice, sooner rather than later a company will provide it — and business leaders increasingly recognize the imperative, with 83% saying that “We have reached a tipping point in which customers are demanding control of their data.

PwC Consumer Intelligence Series

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