How can marketers be data empathic and respect consumer privacy while still generating awareness for their brand

Updated: Jun 06, 2020 4:44 PM

Data that is collected without the customer’s permission is data abuse

Businesses aren’t expected to run without data.Businesses aren’t expected to run without data.

By Adarsh Noronha

Let me paint you a picture. You’ve had a busy day, your boss has been particularly critical of your work, and that sandwich you were looking forward to for lunch turned out to be stale. Just as you’re finally leaving work and booking a cab, your phone buzzes, it’s a telemarketer trying to sell you a car loan. Now, one of these two things happen, either you politely decline and disconnect the call or you simply hang up and block the caller. On an unpleasant workday like this, nothing leaves a person more frustrated than an impersonal marketing call for a product you have no use for.

According to an analysis by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) of the complaints received by telecom service providers about unsolicited commercial communications (UCC), the total number ranged between 79,830 to 111,000 during the first four months of 2019 alone. If you compound this figure with the numerous avenues to be used such as social media, email, snail mail, SMS and voice, you would have a staggeringly high number of unwanted push communications. Despite using a variety of channels to reach out to potential customers, telemarketers see very low conversions. Even when there are conversions, their success with those customers is short-lived. Why? It’s clear that marketers have grown adept at collecting customer data from multiple sources, but most are yet to learn the art of effectively pulling in the customer. In fact, pesky and irrelevant methods, such as the telemarketing tactic used in the above example, do more harm to your brand than good.

Understanding and helping the customer needs to be a marketer’s first priority. Knowing when it is appropriate to contact a prospect or customer or when to stop is one way to demonstrate empathy, to show that you understand your customer and respect their precious time. Like the first tenet of HubSpot’s Customer Code says – “Earn my attention, don’t steal it”.

Now let’s talk about customer data. If we go back to the initial example of unsolicited telemarketing, how do these callers gain access to names, addresses and phone numbers in the first place? All of these details are usually collected from various backdoor channels of websites that are associated with job sites, online marketplaces, unauthorized phone applications and various service providers’ databases. It is a clear violation of the consumers’ privacy. Data that is collected without the customer’s permission is data abuse.

These examples highlight areas of concern which, understandably, demand a certain amount of accountability and empathy from a marketer when it comes to customer data in the digital age. Almost 59% of our global population is now online which has led to businesses gaining access to customer information at unprecedented rates. Subsequently, concerns around its misuse have also grown. Given this, marketers must recognize the concept of ‘data empathy’ when dealing with customers. Let’s look at another statistic for perspective; Google has cited a 6X increase in the search ‘my activity’ since 2016. This lets users view and manage data associated with their account, proving once again that the consumer is aware and demands more control over their data. People are disabling cookies on their search engines which stops marketers from tracking their data. It is clear: customers do not want brands to mismanage their data.

So what should marketers do? How can they be data empathic and thoughtful while still generating awareness for their brand and making sales? Businesses aren’t expected to run without data. But if the customer trusts a brand enough to share their personal details, one shouldn’t betray that trust. It means you have to pay extra attention to how you’re asking for, gathering, and storing the data. Be able to explain why you’re using it. Keep descriptions of the data and track any third parties within your company — like a CRM — that also process the data. And, only use the data when the end result leads to a customer’s life becoming a little easier or convenient. Respect the customers’ information, and use it to provide them helpful, contextual interactions.

Responsible marketers strive for growth while paying particular attention to doing the right thing when it comes to protecting their customers’ data. To some extent data protection can be solved by investing in a robust data infrastructure and security. In line with this HubSpot has made a decision to apply GDPR principles globally, meaning that regardless of a customer’s location, it will apply the principles around fairness, transparency, and data portability. Further, it has also optimized its systems for fast resolution of vulnerabilities.

Many brands have been preparing all along and investing in the right data strategies. Some may say that this is a challenging and confusing time to be a marketer, but with empathetic policies that align with consumer behaviour and demonstrated trustworthiness, brands can deliver higher results and continue to grow their bottom line.

The author is director, Indian Sub-Continent of HubSpot Inc.

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