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Sealing the Deal


This past September, I wrote an article about the value of online trust metrics.  My premise was that vehicles for demonstrating and building trust are essential for the sustained growth of online business. I cited several of the seal programs as examples of trust enhancing tools. A site that displays a TRUSTe, BBB Online or VeriSign seal can create a level of confidence in consumers regarding the site’s privacy or security programs, as well as how it handles consumer data.

The purpose of a seal is to separate the good guys from the bad guys, to foster a sense of trust and comfort among site visitors. The idea is that trusted companies are more likely to receive personal information from consumers, and thus they are in a better position to deliver more relevant marketing messages and a better overall customer experience. I can remember seeing a study conducted by email marketing service provider Yesmail a few years ago that demonstrated a correlation between data, email personalization and response rates. Of course, it helps if you use data in a way that actually benefits your customers, but that’s a different story for a different day.

One of the limitations of seal programs is that they don’t necessarily reach consumers at one of the most critical junctures -- the point of data collection. When a consumer visits a Web form, registration page or email signup box, she or he makes a decision regarding how much personal information to share with a site. If someone gets to a form without being told what will happen to the information they provide, they are likely to assume the worst, and will thus be reluctant to share their data.

California has enacted a law that seeks to increase transparency in data-sharing practices. California SB 27, also known as the “Shine the Light” law, goes into effect in January of 2005. While a full description of the law is beyond the scope of this article, SB 27 generally impacts businesses that disclose the personal information of California Residents to third parties for the purposes of direct marketing. Those companies must be prepared to disclose, by request, a list of third parties to which the company has disclosed customer information.

While SB 27 will probably impact data-sharing practices, I’m not sure that it’s going to provide any real insight to consumers -- particularly those who don’t live in California. With that in mind, I’ve often wondered if it might be beneficial to have a seal that is specifically tailored to comfort consumers at the point of data collection. Two organizations have come together recently to test that hypothesis.

Point of Collection Seal

TRUSTe and NetCreations have partnered and are in the process of developing a point of collection seal. The two organizations are still in the process of testing the seal, but are optimistic that it will increase consumer confidence in sites’ data collection policies.

Michael Mayor, president of NetCreations (and, like me, an iMedia columnist), believes that this new seal can be a useful tool in the fight against spam. Mayor suggests that there are three prongs to fighting spam: technology, legislation and consumer education. “For the most part,” says Mayor, “the industry has been mired in issues pertaining to technology and legislation while consumers become increasingly frustrated by spam and ad clutter.”

Fran Maier, president and executive director of TRUSTe, concurs, noting the importance of enhancing consumer education. “The point of collection seal will help address spam and other issues of consumer nuisance by letting consumers know which sites are safe, and which sites will not contribute to the spam problem.” says Maier.

Testing assumptions

Both Maier and Mayor have high hopes for the new seal, but recognize the importance of confirming their assumptions prior to moving forward with the program. As a result, they are conducting a proof-of-concept test in order to understand whether or not this type of seal will impact consumer trust and willingness to share data. As part of that test, the companies are experimenting with a few different creatives in order to determine which version of the seal will resonate most effectively with consumers.

The two organizations are also planning consumer perception studies to better understand three questions: whether consumers find the point of collection seal to be of value, whether the seal increases consumer comfort and confidence and also whether the presence of the seal impacts the willingness of consumers to share personally identifiable information.

It will be interesting to see the results of this study. Personally, I’m looking forward to understanding the impact that the seal has on consumer willingness to share personal information. I’ve seen similar research on the value of privacy seal programs, but much of that research did not take into account the impact that brand value plays in the trust equation. This test will offer an apples-to-apples comparison of the impact of the point of collection seal. So stay tuned.

TRUSTe's plan

The point of collection seal is part of TRUSTe’s plan to expand its program offerings. “We see a number of opportunities to expand beyond our initial privacy seal program,” says Maier. For example, this past spring TRUSTe introduced the Bonded Sender Program, developed in conjunction with anti-spam vendor Ironport Systems.

The premise behind Bonded Sender is to aid businesses with deliverability issues. They accomplish this goal by using a seal to communicate to the ISPs that seal holders are legitimate companies whose email should get through spam filters. Bonded Sender requires participants to adhere to certain standards and to post a financial bond. TRUSTe oversees the certification, and provides dispute resolution services in conjunction with the Bonder Sender program.

Maier sees the newly created seal to be complementary to their other programs. “The Point of Collection Seal will begin to bridge the Privacy Seal and Bonded Sender programs,” says Maier.

The Bottom Line

In order for ecommerce to continue to thrive, there needs to be a high level of consumer trust in privacy practices. Nowhere is that more evident than in the email list business. I fear that there are still too many companies out there that don’t play fair when it comes to consumer data. “If consumers lose confidence in signing up for email lists, then we all lose,” says Mayor. While California’s “Shine the Light” Law will help to increase transparency of data collection practices, the point of collection seal program should help consumers understand who they can trust with their personal information. And that just might represent another step towards a safer, and dare I say, nuisance-free Internet.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

Alan Chapell is a consultant focusing on privacy marketing -- helping companies understand privacy and incorporate consumer perception into product development. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Chapell is the New York chapter chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and he publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy.


Don't just wing it. That might seem obvious. But it's a mistake that people make constantly, especially when presenting information at internal meetings. But even if you're just giving your weekly team update around the conference table, you should come prepared. If you don't, you're likely to miss pertinent points and bore people with unnecessary details. You might even look like you just don't care.

When it comes to client pitches and industry event presentations, the nature of the event forces you to prepare to some degree. You likely are expected to have notes, a slide deck, or visual aids of some sort. But while most people agonize over the content of these supplementary materials, too few people put the same effort into preparing themselves.

For formal presentations, it's important to say your presentation out loud at least once before the main event. Your speech probably sounds awesome in your head. But it might sound really stupid when it comes out of your mouth. Wouldn't you like to realize that ahead of time? Practicing out loud will also help build your confidence and identify tricky tongue twisters that you might want to avoid or spend some extra time mastering. If you can find a small practice audience in a friend or significant other, do it. It's nice to get feedback, even if that feedback is only body language. If you can't find any audience volunteers for your practice run, present to your cat or a plant. It doesn't matter. Just say it out loud.

In addition, even if you prefer to talk off the cuff during presentations, rather than sticking to a script, you need to build in an emergency fail-safe. That means having notes on you, even if you never take them out of your pocket. Knowing they are there in case your mind suddenly blanks can go a long way in helping you feel prepared. It's a safety net, y'all.

Presentation format and content

A lot of people hear "presentation" and think "PowerPoint deck." To some people, they're one and the same: "How on Earth could someone consider speaking in front of a group without the support of a PowerPoint deck?!"

But I urge you to consider it. Will a slide deck strengthen your presentation? Or are you using it simply because that's what people do? Don't give in to PPT peer pressure. A boring slide deck can actually sink what might otherwise be an interesting presentation. If you're simply listing what you're going to be saying in bullet form, it's probably not necessary. Only build a slide deck if the visual aid is going to enhance your message.

And here's another blasphemous statement for you: Consider not using PowerPoint. There are other tools out there, and some of them might be simpler and better suited to your needs. I, for one, prefer Google Drive presentations. They're simple, slick, and easier to share.

Regardless of the presentation format you choose, try to use as many graphics and as few words as possible when building your slides. Again, the deck should be a visual complement for your presentation, not a replacement for you. It's also an opportunity to inject some visual humor into your presentation. In doing so, go broad. Presentations are not the place for avant-garde humor. They're the place for funny cat photos and "dad jokes" that lampoon 10-year-old pop culture. And if your own sense of humor doesn't translate in a presentation, use someone else's. Drop in a meme photo of a quote from a well-known comedian, and you're golden. 

(Image Source)

Also, before you finalize your presentation, print out all your slides, lay them on the floor, and look at them as a whole. That might sound silly and archaic ("you mean actually use paper?"), but it can help you identify ugly or inconsistent slides that might be hard to spot when scrolling through one by one.

In addition, make sure your presentation is organized logically with a title, clear headers and sections, a conclusion, and contact information. You might even consider having a table of contents up front. It makes skipping around a lot easier when people start asking questions. And let's hope they do ask questions -- that's the truly interesting part. In fact, whenever possible, make sure people know that your entire presentation is a Q&A. As much as you love to talk, people don't like to hear you drone on and on. So try to get your audience involved with every slide.

Speaking tips

OK. So you've done all the necessary preparations. Your slide deck (if you need one) is a visually compelling, appropriately humorous, well-organized work of art. Now it's time to get up and charm the pants off of everybody in the room. Beyond simply speaking clearly, there are a few things to keep in mind.

For one, don't cross your arms. It sounds obvious, but people do it all the time, and it instantly tells your audience that you don't want to be there. It closes off the conversation -- and you should be thinking of your presentation as a conversation.

Use some foul language if you're the kind of person who can curse without sounding silly. Don't cross the line into the potentially offensive (maybe try to keep "gods" off your "damns"), but a few colorful word choices can let your audience know that you're not a stuffed shirt and help put the room at ease. That said, don't overdo it. You're neither a sailor nor George Carlin. 

And finally, when the presentation format does allow for others to participate (as in a meeting or client pitch), don't be afraid of silence. In fact, sometimes shutting up is the most useful thing you can do. Presenters are often tempted to fill every lull with meaningless jabber. But if you resist the temptation and build some pauses into your presentation, you'll likely find that other people will pipe up. And if they do, you'll get some useful feedback that will help shape your presentation as you go to better appeal to the audience.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Closeup microphone in auditorium with people" image via Shutterstock.

Chapell & Associates is headed by Alan Chapell. In 1997, Chapell founded the privacy program at Jupiter Research, an internet research firm focusing on the consumer internet economy. During his four and a half years at Jupiter, Chapell also...

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