Co.Design

From Frog, How To Collect Consumers' Data Without Freaking Them Out

Between news of NSA spying and Target hacking, people are warier than ever about sharing their personal info. Theodore Forbath of Frog offers five tips for building consumers' trust.

Personally, I’m having trouble giving it up. By "it," I mean information about me, details that I’ve worked hard to safeguard and keep private. In fact, the same companies that are now soliciting, or simply taking, my personal data still encourage me to create strong user IDs and passwords to protect my privacy. This can sometimes feel like a conflicting message to the consumer.

After working in the product strategy, design, and development industries for nearly 25 years, I’ve seen how relinquishing some of my autonomy can be a good thing. Through smartphones, tablets, watches, Google Glasses, and Fitbits, companies are using my personal data to help me in ways that feel comforting instead of unnerving.

Here are five tips for brand leaders to consider when harvesting personal data so consumers feel okay about giving it up.

Listen to Your Consumers

Successful dental visits and successful data withdrawal have one thing in common—when performed by experts, they can be pain-free and both parties benefit from the experience. Building trust takes time and lending an ear is critical. Listening and responding are two important activities a company can undertake to ensure brand loyalty. And the best brands know this. They nurture their consumers and in return, they earn devotion. Consumers will embrace new products and new terms, including unloading personal information, if they feel a company, their company, cares about them.

Disney is a good example of this. Through MyMagic+, a new vacation management system, Disney is starting to track valuable residual information from the 121.4 million consumers who visit its Orlando theme parks. Wearing MagicBand bracelets embedded with RFID chips, consumers relay data about where they are and what they are buying. The result? Targeted marketing and ideally a better visitor experience. Kids could be personally greeted by Mickey or parents could receive alerts about the shortest line for rides.

Be Transparent About Data Usage

In any relationship, shady maneuvers raise eyebrows and suspicion. Trust and mutual respect come through upfront messaging and sincere dialogues between a brand and their users. A company has to be honest about how it is collecting data and how that data will be used. The manner or tone in which this transparency is established will be crucial to consumers’ willingness to comply. Take the money-tracking website Mint.com. When asked about relinquishing private information, Mint clients acknowledged comfort in sharing their financial profile and monthly transactions because of the expert advice on lower bank fees and interest rates the company provides. This reciprocal, show-all nature of their relationship with the brand makes Mint a mint.

Offer Elective Data Sharing

Consumers want to know they can opt in or out of information sharing. Again, as with any functional relationship, trust is built over time. Details about individual consumers’ buying habits, trending patterns, and cost-value perspectives will be parsed out if a company is patient, reassuring customers that their data is being curated by a brand that treats personal data with personal attention.

But companies should also remember that not all information is created equal. Consumers give away low-value data like contact information while protecting high-value or "expensive" data like social security numbers. It can be the middle-ground data, information gleaned from the digital detritus of modern life, like chat logs, emails, texts, tweets, Facebook, and Instagram posts, as well as web browsing history, that make consumers uneasy. This Big Brother behavior must be managed to avoid the collision of privacy concerns and big data strategies. Sports fanatics are happy to share their contact information and the names of their favorite teams so that ESPN can email or text real-time updates on sports scores as well as any other breaking news about players and rival teams. The gray area for company comes when it begins to send incentives such as discounted tickets to a favorite team’s next game; would consumers deem this an ad or valuable, even beneficial, content?

Offer Consumer Benefits

If a company provides services or information, which are perceived as valuable, consumers will return the favor by giving up personal data. We’ve done research at frog that suggests consumers are game to reveal all, or at least some, if the relationship is a two-way street. For EyeLock, frog helped to design a biometric identification system called Myris that uses the 240 unique characteristics of our irises to eventually allow consumers to unlock cars, computers, and homes. Early adopters are comfortable giving up their highly personalized, idiosyncratic data for the high level of security and authentication that they receive in exchange.

Use Contextual Awareness Constructively

There’s a fine-line between harvesting personal data to assist or to exploit. By enhancing the consumer experience, a company will earn lifelong loyalty. If, on the other hand, information management is handled poorly, a consumer will angrily flee and Yelp about it for days on end. GoogeNow, a great example of a new class of assistive apps that integrates personal information, such as flight departure times from a user’s calendar with ones’ current location and real-time traffic data, is the frequent-traveler’s new best friend as it can alert a user to the optimal time to leave for the airport. Based on one’s physical location and schedule, GoogleNow provides contextually specific advice.

Another company who is capitalizing on the rewards of contextual awareness is U.K.’s Wonga. By using one’s Facebook credentials to login to its quick loan online service, Wonga is able to quickly authenticate an applicant by the number of connections that they have in their social graph. For Wonga, a large number of social connections is equivalent to a physical address or e-mail account in verifying someone’s identity.

Based on our work designing products and services for Fortune 100 companies in the interconnected world, we at frog know that personal data collection, coupled with effective strategies to manage customers’ privacy concerns, will distinguish best-in-class products and enduring brands from their competitors. This effort will take patience and nurturing just as any healthy relationship does. Companies must actively engage with their customers to establish a dialogue of mutual understanding on how personal data is captured, stored, managed, analyzed, re-used, and shared over time. In the end, customers will see the tangible benefits of sharing private information with companies who have invested in knowing them in order to create much more personalized user experiences.

[Image: Data via Shutterstock]

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