Best practices for a brand's privacy policy

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This article is about privacy policies, but don't stop reading just yet. My aim here is to change how you think about them, maybe even show you how they can be interesting (really). Your privacy policy is how you communicate to consumers what you do with their data and how you get their buy-in to it. This is rarely considered a part of the online sales or marketing process. Most digital sales and marketing people see a website's privacy policy as irrelevant; it's a small document stashed at the back of the website which is required for legal compliance. We all know that it has to be available for consumers to read, and we all know they never even glance at it. The only people who will bother to read it are conspiracy theorists who think Dan Brown was a whistle-blower, not a fiction writer, and unless we're selling nuclear bunkers or survival kits, those people won't buy from our site anyway. In many cases, the privacy policy was written by the legal department and you have to be a lawyer to understand the terminology. If we're super advanced, we might have a privacy policy which has been translated into understandable language, but that's about the level of sophistication most of us are at.

Best practices for a brand's privacy policy

Big mistake! Just prior to 9/11, online privacy was the No. 1 concern of U.S. citizens. After 9/11, being blown up by a terrorist naturally became a more pressing worry, but online privacy concerns never went away. As terrorist threats have become a regular part of life, online privacy worries have started to resurface. With the revelations about Verizon, PRISM, and the NSA, online privacy is back at the forefront of consumer worries. I've looked into the stats for sites I analyze and found that since the PRISM news broke, the chance of someone abandoning an online purchase after viewing a privacy policy has quadrupled. In other words, people are taking the content of the privacy policy much more seriously. The time on these pages has also tripled, which means (OMG!) people are now reading our privacy policies and reacting to the content! Your privacy policies now have a direct impact on your bottom line.

There seems to be a disconnect between much of the digital marketing fraternity and consumers. For many marketers, this whole irritating privacy/tracking business is only a concern because stupid consumers simply don't understand the benefits of behavioral targeting. Surely if we explain it to them, these morons (our customers) would calm down. The industry solution has therefore been an education campaign, something which various industry bodies have been attempting for years. These "campaigns" have been ineffective and under motivated, uncoordinated and poorly supported. They show nothing like the push or enthusiasm which could be expected of even a mediocre product launch. In fact, they're so dull and uncreative, and it's hard to believe they were the work of marketing professionals at all. Not surprisingly, the result of this "campaign" to allay public fears has been zip. 

Even if the marketing community had made any real effort to educate consumers, it wouldn't have helped. Consumer privacy concerns are not something that can be dealt with by facts because they're not purely intellectual. Consumer privacy concerns are about trust, and trust is based on emotion as much as reason. Anyone who's tried to improve consumer trust knows you'll get nowhere with long intellectual arguments.

Privacy concerns are seen as a burden by marketers because they are not seen as offering any benefit. However, it's perfectly valid to see privacy as part of CRM, as a way of ensuring you gather optimal consumer data while also improving the bottom line. When we do this, we stop thinking about a privacy policy as a static document and start thinking of it as a communications strategy.