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Customer Experience

4 Consumer Privacy Tactics To Win Over Mistrustful Customers

Consumers are more wary of sharing their personal data. Brands need to be transparent with their data use, and offer their shoppers access to real value and control to win their trust. Here’s how the rules have changed.

illustration of a tablet computer with images of photos, credit cards, files, and more
Brands that advertise have to master the art of consumer privacy and gaining customer trust. [Golden Sikorka / Shutterstock]

We are living in strange times. Fake news, deep fake videos, ransomware attacks – it’s no surprise that consumers are growing more distrustful of institutions and more wary of sharing their data. Mistrust is the new attitudinal default, and it shows up repeatedly in consumer surveys. For example, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in the United States revealed that 81% of us think we have little to no control over companies collecting our data; nearly 60% said we have little to no understanding of how our data is being used, and more than 70% think nearly everything we do online is being tracked by advertisers or vendors.

Given these attitudes, it’s easy for some data-dependent marketers to lose hope or feel it’s too late to recapture lost trust. However, our own Salesforce surveys show clearly that consumers are willing to share data comfortably as long as certain conditions are met. What are they?

  • Transparency. Consumers want to understand what data brands have and how they are using it. 
  • Value. Consumers feel there is a clear link between the data they are sharing and the value they are receiving.
  • Control. Consumers want and expect the ability to control their personal data, retain the right “to be forgotten,” and actively manage their privacy preferences.

Brands that advertise are going to have to master the art of gaining consumer trust. How? We asked consumers how marketers could best balance their need for privacy with the desire for real, personalized communication from brands. Here’s what we heard:

1. Don’t talk about people behind their back

It turns out that we dislike online gossip just as much as we do in real life. Our attitudes toward information sharing depend both on the type of information and the way it’s shared, or what social scientists call the “information flows.” One study found consumers are much more comfortable with open “direct sharing” than they are with covert sharing, which is when companies use our data without our explicit permission. The latter, when disclosed to consumers, drove down purchase interest by 24%. But using overt data collection can restore interest and rebuild trust. Bottom line: Tell people directly how you are gathering their data and why.

2. Give users more control over their personal data

An alarming 81% of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey confessed they felt they had almost no control over companies collecting their data. This feeling is especially rife in the United States. When consumers in the United States and the European Union were asked if they would opt out of future data collection, U.S. consumers were 1.5X more likely to say yes. Why? One likely explanation is that, for all its fits and starts, Europe’s data law, the General Data Protection Regulation, provides Europeans with a sense of control over their own data. In the United States, our hodgepodge of legislation and tools does not. People have been shown to share data much more willingly when they believe they can control what they share, even if that control is an illusion. Bottom line: Give consumers more control over their preferences, and tell them how you are collecting their data. 

3. Explain the benefits of sharing first-person data in concrete, positive terms

It’s up to the brand to describe the privacy value exchange as concretely and positively as it can. Stay positive and benefits-focused, since there’s evidence that mentioning risks makes people nervous. The idea is to give the consumer a sense of the awesomeness of your personalized experience, either in words or pictures. In one study, for example, an ad for a car rental company using a person’s physical location performed better when it was explained that location data was used specifically to mention services not available elsewhere. Bottom line: Paint a picture of the tangible benefits resulting from sharing data.

4. Remember, people are different

It is often assumed that attitudes to online privacy and ad targeting are demographically determined. Millennial and Gen Z consumers are the “cultural paranoids,” while the Boomers and Gen Xers are more relaxed. It turns out these attitudes are more a function of our personalities than our age. So, the privacy conversation will be different with different groups, and these groups are likely not segmented by age, gender, or income. The groups that are actively concerned about their privacy may just need more information – and the more the better. Those that reject all data-driven personalization need their suspicions allayed. It’s up to your team to figure out which psychographic segment each consumer inhabits. Bottom line: Throw your customer insights and data science teams at the problem to discover which groups are the most skeptical or open to personalization.

Remember, you can always try something new. Ask people to share data after you’ve given them something of value. Be explicit. Ask them how they feel. Give them the remote. The human rules still apply: Trust is something that is earned, not just given.

This content is adapted from Customer Data Platforms (Wiley, 2020), copyright Martin Kihn and Chris O’Hara.

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