CEO Today is a monthly magazine with news, insight and features specifically aimed at CEO's in the global business marketplace.

In 2018 Data Protection Has Never Been More Important for a Business

This year, it’s clear that data has never been more important to both the digital economy and in the eyes of customers. As individuals have more rights over how their data is used thanks to GDPR, organisations have to be more careful than ever when it comes to the possession, effective protection and use of customers details. Jed Mole, Vice President of Marketing at Acxiom, explains for CEO Today.

This is even more imperative with the rising awareness and understanding of the role data plays in society; consumers increasingly regarding their data as an asset that they can use to their advantage with organisations, trading information for access to better services, benefits or offers. To what degree this is practical is something that has been hotly debated, the true value of data versus the time consumers will spend each day, week or month, to review and manage their data in a world where it seems they value ‘frictionless’, easy experiences highly.

Research tells us consumers say they want to have more information on how individual companies may share their data – and they want more control over the channels they use to do this. It’s well understood that the primary factor that gives consumers the confidence to exchange personal data with a business or brand is their overall level of trust in that specific organisation. A recent DMA/ Acxiom report, independently executed by the Foresight Factory, revealed that half (51%) of consumers across global markets put trust in an organisation in their top three factors that make them happy to share personal information with a company.

As businesses work to maximise customer satisfaction, there’s another critical party to keep happy – the regulators. The digital revolution has been a key driver behind the recent EU data legislation changes because the consumer now interacts with data in so many more ways than before, increasing their interest in data privacy along with the need for more rigorous due diligence around the provenance of data and the levels of consent associated with it.

Of course, with so much data being generated by us all, data security has climbed the ranks for most organisations as a crucial ‘table stake’ for organisations. Data lost or compromised bearing a direct and punitive link to brand reputation and financial results and that’s before the regulator imposes any fines.

Data done well balances innovation with ethical data practices and places consumers at the centre of the experience. Being open with customers about how their data will be used and indeed, for how long, is a great opportunity to let them buy in to your company and its culture and principles – not just your product or service. Treating data with respect and care shows you’re treating your customers with respect and care building real trust and loyalty.

While trust is key in being able to hold consumer data that in turn can enable the best possible customer experience we only need look at the concerns which arise following high-profile security breaches to see the risk to it. News stories such as these shine a light on data and on all organisations to a degree. When these concerns arise, we must react but avoid the temptation to over-react and sensationalise. We must learn and address key issues and get it right because data is here to stay; it’s too important to all our lives to ‘switch off, just in case’. And, despite concerns, especially around the time of newsworthy issues, it seems consumers are, by and large, more stable and open when it comes to data than sensationalised news would have us believe.

Indeed, as the UK DMA/Acxiom research shows (as it features trend data from 2012, 2015 and 2017), the segment of ‘data unconcerned’ is growing fastest, from 26% in 2012 to 31% at the end of 2017. This was mainly at the expense of ‘data fundamentalists’ who do not like sharing their data under almost all circumstances. It could be claimed that this latest research pre-dates the most recent data news stories but between 2012 and 2017, there have been enough data related stories to give some confidence that consumers are more accepting. Most important of all, companies must respond quickly to consumers cybersecurity and privacy issues, with openness and transparency. Increasingly, we will see this as a data partnership between brands and consumers. The expectations the latter have of the former are growing steadily and brands need to proactively embrace data ethics, which goes beyond what you can legally do with it to shape organisations that put the customer and their data first in fair weather or foul. Creating the right commitment to ethically sound data practices creates companies and employees who engender privacy by design, in all they do in the creation and delivery of products and services consumers can trust. While there may be a long road ahead for UK businesses looking to gain and keep customer trust, it is very possible. As we push further into 2018, the organisations who master data ethics will be the ones best placed to build and cement customer trust.

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