How leading brands are earning customer trust in the midst of data and privacy concerns


The trust that customers have for brands and business, in general, is at a low ebb.

Whilst many businesses are cognisant of this and are working hard to build the trust that they have with their customers, in recent months their cause has not been helped by a number of stories that have cropped up around privacy, data leaks, hacks and exposés focused on some of the tactics employed by a number of high profile brands.

It is understandable that companies collect data on their customers in order to increase their understanding so that it helps them deliver improvements to their marketing, service and experience. However, the tactics of some are in danger of jeopardising the work that many others are doing but they are also calling into question some of the data practices of businesses and brands as a whole.

For example, a friend of mine at a leading software firm told me recently of one martech/adtech firm that through its tracking of customers was able to collect up to 4,000 data points on them.

4,000 data points!

That’s a lot of ‘understanding’! I found myself wondering, when I heard this, if I could come up with 4,000 data points about my wife never mind about one of my customers!

What is clear, however, is that data and privacy concerns are driving a lot of thinking about how firms collect, manage and treat customer data. On the back of this, we are also seeing a lot of innovation around the Personal Information Management space, much of which was showcased at Ctrl Shift’s recent conference in London: Personal Information Economy 2015 (PIE2015) – Growth Through Trust: The rise of Me2B commerce.

This space represents a potentially huge opportunity for brands and innovators alike, but Alan Mitchell, Ctrl Shift’s Head of Strategy, believes that we are still at an early stage in its development and many of the innovations that are emerging still face a large number of challenges, including:

  1. Few, if any, have yet achieved a real clarity of purpose, and set of use cases, such that when people see what they are doing and how it can help they them they are able to say ‘Ah, yes, I now get it!’;
  2. Many still face massive service design issues, particularly around functionality and adoption; and
  3. Whilst people and brands may understand the issues and see the opportunity, the current infrastructure and technology of major brands remains a huge barrier to adoption and, as such, is constraining the growth of the market.

Now, whilst it is heartening to see the level of innovation and progress that is being made to address these issues, throughout the conference I found myself thinking that that there seemed to be something missing from the conversation. And, that was the customer.

What I mean is that in the midst of all the talk of data, privacy, innovation and what was possible, the customer, what they want, what they are concerned about and the customer experience, in general, seemed to get lost somehow in the overall conversation. This was echoed by another speaker at the conference: Geraldine McBride, CEO of MyWave, a next generation CRM solution, who believes that:

We need to change the conversation and stop talking about data and start talking about outcomes. Outcomes that the brands want to achieve and outcomes that customers want to achieve.

I agree that brands would do better to focus on outcomes but they also need to address the trust deficit that still exists. Focusing on outcomes alone is not guaranteed to solve this. Therefore, brands need to keep the customer at the centre of the conversation and start with the concerns that they have, the data that they share and the sort of relationship they want to have with brands.

Of the talks that I attended, two stood out as businesses that are ‘grasping the nettle‘ and tackling the trust issue head on. They are doing this by putting transparency, openness and simplicity at the heart of their approach.

The first example came from Vodafone who acknowledged that there is a trust deficit, particularly when it comes to data use and privacy. As a result, they are focusing their efforts on a series of customer questions, surrounding data and privacy, that they need to explicitly address if they are to continue to earn their customers trust. These questions are organised under two pillars:

  1. Motivation
    • Why do you want my data? and
    • What are your motivations?
  2. Capability
    • What are you going to do with my data? and
    • How are you keeping it safe?

The second example comes from the The Guardian newspaper who are taking a similar approach but have gone a step further and have produced a series of explainer videos (such as this one: Why your data matters to us – video). Their aim is to openly address their customers’ concerns about data and privacy and explain to them what data is being collected, how they can control that, who it is shared with and how it is linked with their business model and their commitment to ‘open journalism’.

These two examples show that whilst data and privacy are hugely important issues they don’t exist in isolation and how brands tackle them will be integral to the trust building process.

So, when it comes to data whether that is big data, small data, marketing data, use data or any other type of data, firms that want to build customer trust in the midst of data and privacy concerns would do well to follow the examples set by Vodafone and The Guardian and stay focused on their customers, their concerns and what it is going to take to build the trust and sort of relationship that they want to have with their customers.




This post was originally published on my column.

Photo Credit: IntelFreePress via Compfight cc


  1. Adrian,

    I produce lots of data and management information for a living.

    Your point about 4,000 pieces of data and clarity of purpose rang very true.

    There is very little point in collecting all of that information if you don’t know what you are going to use it for. And “just incase” is lazy thinking, because when you do decide you will always have the wrong stuff.


    • adrianswinscoe says:

      Indeed. Understanding why you are collecting data for is one thing and only collecting the appropriate type of data is another. However, I’d like to see more firms communicate clearly what they are doing and why they are doing it. That way customers can clearly see and understand the benefits or otherwise.



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