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Data Privacy: How Consumer Attitudes Have Changed and How Brands Must React

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of consumer life, brands need to think hard about defining their boundaries when it comes to collecting and using personal data. Since data is the underpinning of nearly all tech — supplying the necessary information for technologies to be continually updated and refined — the protection of personal data is paramount.

I discussed the role of communications in privacy and data protection at PRCA Africa’s “Unpacking privacy in PR” panel discussion along with industry peers from across the continent and beyond. Exploring the results of WE’s latest Brands in Motion Research, “The Privacy Mandate,” I unpacked how audiences’ new, savvier outlook on data privacy is changing expectations and requiring brands to be more transparent and genuine about their use of people’s private data.

A more informed audience

There’s been a shift in the data privacy landscape — consumers are becoming more informed and sophisticated about how brands use their data. The pandemic certainly played a role in heightening public awareness of health data and how it can be used to track and control, from medical services going virtual to the digital transference of health data to government contact tracing.

The rise in new legislature for protecting personal data online should be a sign to brands that this issue is being taken quite seriously. In South Africa, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) — our own version of Europe’s GDPR — commenced in July 2021. POPIA seeks to “give effect to the constitutional right to privacy, by safeguarding personal information when processed by a responsible party,” and sets conditions for companies to abide by when it comes to collecting and processing citizens’ private information.

As audiences become more aware of how much of their data is being collected, they’ve become more selective in giving brands permission to collect it. They’re often willing to trade privacy for curated marketing content or an improved experience — but only up to a certain point. And they’ll punish brands that misuse data or aren’t totally transparent in disclosing their collection and usage policies.

Sharing personal data is a requirement to access many digital services. Consumers are only scratching the surface about how their data is being used, and they are feeling overwhelmed as they discover more and more ways in which they have previously been tracked. So, for brands, where is the line between consumers being merely uncomfortable about the use of their data and when their concerns are genuine because it’s being used unethically?

For brands, this means a balancing act. Increasingly, they must thread the needle between regulation and business results, all while ensuring their customers understand and approve of their data policies.

Key Insights from The Privacy Mandate

WE recently completed a survey with consumers from across the globe about how their data privacy expectations are changing. The report, titled “The Privacy Mandate,” showcases key insights into consumers’ attitudes toward data privacy as well as actions brand leaders need to take.

An overwhelming 97% of WE’s Brands in Motion respondents agree that data privacy is a significant issue. This is heightened by the sudden visibility of data privacy regulations. More so, “data privacy” means more than simply cybersecurity or protecting personal information. It's about the consumer's understanding of data policies and their willing exchange of personal data for benefit.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents say transparency is key and want more control over how their data is shared and used, with a vast majority (91%) saying they would either reconsider or stop doing business with a brand based on its privacy and confidentiality policies.

How Do Brands Navigate the New Data Privacy Landscape?

So, what can brands do to own the data privacy conversation in an increasingly privacy-conscious world? And how can they make it into a conversation that will actually engage consumers?

1. Use privacy communications to entertain and engage.

Brands need to engage with their audiences about their use of data to maintain transparency and help audiences feel comfortable. Significantly, 89% of consumers will either reconsider or stop supporting a brand based on their stance on privacy and confidentiality. Proactively sharing your approach to data privacy and data use allows your brand to lead the conversation and demonstrate your confidence in the ethics of your actions.

2. Establish a relationship built on safety.

Consumers want to know that their online data, used or not, is being protected. In fact, 74% of respondents are concerned about how brands and companies collect their data. If data privacy is a transaction, they need to know that it is a safe transaction. Brands can establish trust by being transparent and overcommunicating with consumers about how their data is being used.

3. Prove you've kept your promises.

Consumers who have consented to a brand collecting their data need to see evidence that their data is being used as they expected it to be. When asked, 87% of consumers said they will either reconsider or stop entirely supporting a brand if it asks for data they believe to be irrelevant to its services. Brands should only request user data that’s relevant to them, and brands need to demonstrate how the data will enhance their services.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Accountability is key for brands to thrive in a data-conscious world. Brands need to remember that they don’t own the data — the data belongs to the individual. Brands can control it, process it and enhance it, but they need to respect it and abide by what they have been authorized to do with it.

There is a great opportunity for the comms industry to help brands take a more engaging, proactive approach to collecting data to lead the conversation honestly. As the Privacy Mandate advises, overcommunicating with customers about how their data is being used is not just necessary but rather critical to remaining accountable and building trust.

August 15, 2022

Sarah Gooding
Managing Director, South Africa