Turn Better Data Security Into a Strategic Advantage

In the age of personalization, how much is too much? Giving your members more control over their privacy—and making that clear to them—could be a big strategic win for your association.

These days, it seems like every online service wants to personalize everything. Certainly, lots of organizations, along with their marketing teams, have gained a lot of momentum from implementing that strategy.

But where’s the limit? What if we’re inching ever closer to an inevitable backlash? And what would that backlash look like?

A new study from the consulting firm Accenture suggests we might soon see a stronger desire for control among consumers. The ‌Accenture Technology Vision 2019 report describing a “post-digital era” doesn’t focus on data alone, but its points on data in particular reflect a shifting digital tide—one that can’t be blamed solely on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.

“The honeymoon of unlimited technological access is over,” the report states [PDF]. “Businesses need to understand how much technology people want to use, how much access they want to allow into their lives, and how much individualization they want companies to create without stepping over the line.”

Where is this line? To put it simply, it’s not a universal one.

There are, of course, situations where data can still crack open a new market. The report cites the rise of India’s SlicePay, a financial firm that effectively replaces credit checks—difficult to pass when you don’t have credit—with the use of data analysis.

“Combined with other tech-derived metrics, SlicePay uses these insights to build applicant profiles that replace traditional financial histories,” the report states.

And there is an understanding that data still plays an important role in many cases. According to the report, 41 percent of executives believe that understanding consumer behaviors remains essential to unlocking consumer loyalty; that’s not new.

What is new, however, is an understanding that not everyone wants to give away all that data. And that contingent is growing. The report notes that roughly a fifth of consumers are willing to drop a product if they’re not confident that their privacy or data security is being respected. Another 20 percent will tell their friends. While roughly half of consumers expect a degree of personalization, a significant number are likely to get uncomfortable if your data collection reaches beyond your organization’s mission.

The Accenture report breaks these differences down into three personas, each with a different comfort level. Many might consider a navigation app that talks to their calendar to be a step too far; others may not want to reveal to a retailer that an item is a gift; and some simply prefer to control where their data goes.

Members should have strong control over how their data is used and where that data ends up, and it needs to be simple.

Much of this reticence is not specifically about your organization. “Businesses must … remember that they are not the only company that individuals have technology-driven relationships with—and those other relationships may affect the lines they draw for your company,” the report adds.

Thinking in terms of associations, all of this leads me to a simple conclusion: Members should have strong control over how their data is used and where that data ends up, and it needs to be simple.

Accenture’s report highlights an important discussion point around privacy and what users are going to be willing to give away going forward. And I don’t necessarily mean just compliance, though that is certainly a big part of what’s driving the conversation.

One of the growing themes in technology discussions, both inside and outside associations, is about what can be done versus what should be done. Think about this in terms of “dark patterns,” a topic I wrote about last fall.

Associations understandably want to acquire useful data about their target audience to better serve their users, but quite often the organization doesn’t act on it—and even when it does, the tangible benefit to members or the association might be minimal.

When a significant portion of the audience wants to opt out, every decision about collecting member data needs to be made with the member in mind. Will providing this information to you add any value for the person providing it?And it raises another question: Are we reaching the point where counterprogramming is the way to break through?

Case in point: Over the past decade, the search engine DuckDuckGo has made a name for itself by proclaiming on its front page that it does not actively track its users. For years, it was a scrappy upstart run by one guy, but it’s growing rapidly. Given that it’s in a market in which tracking is basically seen as a given, it’s a refreshing pitch—not just from a marketing standpoint but from an ethical one. Its rise highlights how, for some, privacy is going from back burner to front of mind.

There are opportunities for associations to stand out in this way: The ALS Association last week ran a fundraising campaign with a transparency element, using blockchain to help ensure the funds went where they were supposed to go. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that charities are more strenuously judged on how they acquire their mailing lists. People are becoming more deeply aware of these issues. And they’ll want answers. In some cases, they already do.

Minimizing your use of data where it’s prudent, and maximizing transparency about how it’s used, doesn’t have to be a regulatory requirement. It could be a differentiator.

It could be a new way your organization stands out.

(Natali_Mis/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!