Latest findings from the DMA Data Tracker survey show a steady shift in the balance of power towards the consumer. As David Reed reports, marketers can help their case for getting consent by ensuring personal information gets used properly.
Politicians like to talk about “sealing the deal” with voters. They mean that the electorate has thought about their key messages, decided they like them and is committed to vote that party in. As last year’s general election result showed, failing to seal the deal will not deliver the desired outcome.
Data practitioners must now consider whether they are facing a similar scenario in relation to consent and permission. Until recently, there was an inherent assumption that individuals accepted the need to provide their personal information in return for access to information, services, transactions and content. Like gaining a majority in order to win power, organisations based their data practices on having data at their heart.
Based on the results from the latest wave of the DMA Data Tracker, that mindset might need to change. Like entering a coalition, brands may have to negotiate a new deal, giving up some treasured values in return for keeping their basic ability to act.
At the heart of the survey, which was conducted by fast.Map and supported by Equifax, was a question about the items of data which consumers were willing to share across a range of scenarios. These ranged from the long-established, such as buying goods online, requesting a sample or more information, through to more recent activities, like setting up an email account or getting a quote, to the very latest, like creating a social media account or pledging support to a cause.
A general assumption might be that consumers would provide core demographic information across all of these, such as name, address and email address. Instead, a bare majority (53 %) said they would share their name when buying online. For every other scenario, only a minority would tell the company who they were, ranging from 49 % when setting up an email account to just 21 % if pledging support to a cause.
Address data was marginally more likely to be given during a purchase (58 %), but falls to a low of just 9 % if setting up a social media account. In four out of the seven scenarios, an email address was more likely to be offered.
The apparent anonymity and non-geographic nature of social media appear to be the underlying driver for this shift in attitude. If you can conduct your life online without exchanging personal information, consumers seem to be saying, then why not in other types of engagement? Certainly the resistance towards data sharing is highest in social media, with 37 % of consumers claiming they would give no personal information at all. Even when giving support to a cause, 35 % want to do so without revealing who they are.
Just as the election delivered a mixed outcome, so the answers to this question have provided a more nuanced view of consumer consent. For at the same time as core demographic data has got harder to acquire over the last six months (see Chart 1), other more sensitive data has become somewhat easier to ask for.
Date of birth is one of the most powerful variables a company can collect. Compared to the previous wave of research, consumers have become more willing in all scenarios to provide this. Although this willingness ranges from a low of 10 % when pledging support up to a high of 34 % if creating an email account, there has been a positive increase in every case.
Likewise giving a telephone number, credit card or bank details - consumers now say these are on the agenda, at the same time as they are taking name, address and email data away at a rapid rate. That makes designing an appropriate data capture process more challenging. Certainly, it will be essential to explain why each item of data is required and it may be necessary to review processes to see if they can be carried out without some of the information that was previously expected to be available.
One strand of thinking within the European Commission is to keep to a bare minimum the data required for online interactions. That chimes with what consumers have said in Wave 3 of the DMA Data Tracker, where trust in the brand is key to giving consent, but on a limited basis.
So what can brands do to maintain their access to data? A key area is the way privacy statements are written at the point of data capture. Although consumers said the clarity of these had less influence on their decision to opt-out than six months ago, there is still a 12 percentage point difference between the most persuasive statements and the least.
Four wordings were offered and consumers asked whether they would tick the opt-out. The choices ranged from a plain statement that the consumer can choose not to receive marketing items through to more developed explanations about how data might be shared with third parties and why the company would like permission to stay in contact.
The lowest level of opt-out (at 43 %) was for the most detailed version in which the consumer was told they were opting out of marketing from both the company and its selected partners. The other three options all gained relatively similar levels of opt-out (see Chart 2), with the highest attracting 55 %. Surprisingly, this was the simplest option available.
It is this 12 % gap between the rate at which consumers exercise their option that marketers can take advantage of through testing. Across an entire customer base, reducing opt-outs by this level can make a sizeable difference to the permission-to-market rate on a database. It is worth noting, however, that in Wave 2, this difference was 17 %. Consumers may be getting more familiar with the way companies seek to mitigate negative consent.
Permission rates at the point of data capture dictate the scope a brand has to communicate with its customers from the beginning of a relationship. As the engagement develops, there are multiple points at which the individual might choose to withdraw their consent, however. Understanding what can trigger this decision can help to keep in-lfe opt-outs to a minimum.
Unsubscribe requests are a constant possibility within every marketing campaign. Where these are received, the reason might not necessarily be a desire to stop receiving messages. Instead, as Chart 3 shows, it could just indicate the end of the customer’s lifecycle with that provider. Modelling unsubscribers against usage patterns may help to reassure the brand that people leave when they are finished, not just because they are unhappy.
Except that a similar level of unsubscribe happens because the consumer believes they did not give permission to be contacted in the first place. If six out of ten believe they are receiving unsolicited communications (without consent), that represents an important problem for marketers to resolve.
There is also clear evidence that poor use of data is one of the major triggers for unsubscribe requests. These include sending irrelevant items which do not reflect what is known about the individual’s interests, sending too many items, or targeting poorly. Although less of an issue, not providing enough information that is of value to the consumer can also lead to a negative response.
While service and customer experience may not necessarily be under the direct control of the marketing function, these have immediate consequences for consent. A poor experience or other causes of dissatisfaction are likely to lead to unsubscribe requests. Recognising when an individual has been poorly handled or is dissatisfied and using this to filter when messages are sent could help to avoid losing permission.
Within the research, there are clear indications that consumer want to take back more control over their data and are sensitive to reasons (and opportunities) to do so. At the same time, marketers do have their own moments of truth during the relationship when they can leverage a willingness to provide personal information.
At its best, this is shown in the seven-fold advantage companies with an existing relationship to the consumer have in gaining data over unknown brands. Even businesses in the same group - or those selling aspirational goods and services - enjoy nearly double the likely rate of data sharing.
At worst, consumers may be looking to shut the door on mis-used or mis-applied data by withdrawing their consent. It is up to brands to ensure they apply best practice to data if they want to keep their mandate from the population.