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4 Principles for Putting Responsible Marketing Into Practice

Amid today’s intersecting health, social, and economic crises, it’s crucial to understand how our products impact end users.

woman in mask on laptop computer responsible marketing principles

Consumers want to be recognized, treated uniquely, and have their personal information curated carefully. According to our 2020 State of the Connected Customer report, 52% of consumers expect their offers to be personalized — up from 49% in 2019. However, only 27% of consumers understand how companies use their personal information and data. With the current trust revolution building in marketing and retail, especially when it comes to the collection and use of personal data, adding transparency and responsible personalization into your marketing process will be key.

Personalizing consumer data has implications for all four of our company values — trust, customer success, innovation, and equality. And amid today’s intersecting health, social, and economic crises, it’s crucial to understand how our products impact end users. Our Research & Insights (R&I) team partnered with Marketing Cloud product teams and our Office of Ethical and Humane Use to understand how ethics-by-design helps us achieve a more responsible marketing standard. 

Consumers and marketers are aligned in all but one key area

Our R&I team conducted an in depth study with both consumers and marketers to understand their perspectives on personalization and data usage to inform responsible marketing practices. We expected our research to show differences in how groups think about the benefits of personalization, such as the use of sensitive data. Instead, we found consumers and marketers are already aligned about both their concerns and perceived benefits of personalization.

One key area of difference did emerge — the perception of effectiveness. While some experiences are perceived by marketers as “effective” in getting consumers to engage with a product or advertisement, they carry long term negative impacts on a brand overall. The challenge for marketers is to balance consumers’ trust with business priorities — after all, trust can be easily broken, and difficult to regain. 

“The average consumer is much more aware — they’re pulling back the curtains on something us marketers already knew was going on,” one marketer shared. “Now consumers are asking: how are you using my data, how can I turn this off, and how can I control it?”

Numbers from the 2020 State of the Connected Customer report

  • 63% of customers say most companies aren’t transparent about how their data is used
  • 47% of customers say most companies don’t use their personal information in a way that benefits them
  • 34% of customers say most companies treat them as an individual (versus as a number)

These findings from the Connected Customer report align with four key themes we heard from marketers and consumers in our deep dive study:

1. Security

Consumers are concerned about financial and identity-related risks, and marketers are concerned about the impact on their brand’s image of appearing not mindful of or invested in security and privacy. 

2. Data sharing

For consumers, sharing data, particularly when data is being shared between brands, parties, or platforms, is also a concern. While consumers might be aware of the relationship between a parent company’s different brands, it can be confusing or alarming to feel they’re being marketed to by brands they don’t necessarily recognize or remember.

3. Inaccurate or irrelevant personalization

Consumers shared their experiences of receiving marketing that emphasized information about them in unexpected ways, such as gender when they’re nonconforming, or marketing based on one-time searches or purchases, as they aren’t reflective of who they are or what they’re looking for most of the time. Certain marketing can also play into harmful stereotypes.

4. Use of individual information

Both consumers and marketers share concerns about how companies maximize the use of an individual’s information and their ability to appropriately interpret that information to personalize an experience.

Outline the northstar for ethical, data-driven marketing practices

By understanding both marketer and consumer perspectives on beneficial and appropriate personalization, we can outline the north star for ethical, data-driven marketing practices. Here are four principles from our research to help companies get started:

1. Use and collect individual information appropriately

Consumers expressed concern about the collection of their individual information, and how it could be used in ways that end up excluding them from deals, content, or products that might benefit them. On the other hand, marketers face issues interpreting those personal data points, and determining when and how to use them. To navigate this tension, build moments of review to prompt marketers to reflect on what information is being collected and whether it’s valuable for data-driven marketing and segmentation. Also consider designing tools that target messages based on patterns of interest, rather than just demographics.

2. Be transparent about data use

Consumers expect transparency in how data is collected and used, and for marketers to provide more transparency. As artificial intelligence (AI) takes on more of the work of personalization, there needs to be transparency into why these models provide users with their experiences. At Salesforce, we release model cards that act like nutrition labels for AI models. This allows our customers and users to have a better understanding of how the AI model was trained, how it works, and to provide transparency to all stakeholders.

3. Remember consumers want control and clarity

Brands should make the value of user data clear to consumers. Those consumers also told us they want a system to manage their data across brands. Consumers want to know why marketers need the data they collect — ensure it’s secure, and provide transparency particularly around how it’s being used and shared.

4. Provide clear benefits in exchange for data

Consider this real-life scenario: you’ve just purchased a gift for someone else’s baby shower, and without having any children of your own, begin to receive ads for diapers. According to our research, many consumers would rather provide better data about themselves so marketers can provide a more personalized experience that actually addresses their needs.


By understanding both consumer and marketer expectations and experiences, we can create a standard for responsible marketing personalization with data. Provide valuable, relevant content; honor customers’ preferences; and strive for transparency about how data is shared. Learn about our Salesforce User Research Program, and our ethical and humane use commitment.

Annie Chin and Sarah Flamion contributed to this article.

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