For as long as I can remember, the role of privacy communications was largely reactive. While communicators established crisis management frameworks, shaped the policy agenda and defined leadership positioning, more often than not, we were addressing the fallout of data or regulatory breaches. 

When customers can praise you one minute and cancel you the next, taking a more proactive approach to privacy communications can be a competitive advantage for brands and businesses. This insight is a key finding of our latest Brands in Motion report, “The Privacy Mandate: New Normal, New Rules,” which defined “data privacy” as the consumer’s understanding of how an organization is gathering their data and what it’s using this data for. 

The keyword here is “understanding.” It is no longer enough for brands to consider “data privacy” as simply the protection of stored personal data or one’s anonymity on the internet. Our experiences, like with contact tracing technology during the pandemic, have taught us that privacy is an exchange: We agree to give up our data for frictionless convenience. Accordingly, “data privacy” must be redefined to underscore that privacy is a choice and the implications of that trade-off. 

How can communicators make data privacy an exciting part of a brand’s relationship with its customers? 

1. Unlock the power of user data 

The ongoing pandemic, economic instability and social unrest have contributed to an atmosphere of uncertainty. It is no wonder that consumers are increasingly looking to brands as sources of stability, according to our Brands in Motion report, “The Bravery Mandate.” 

One way that brands can exude dependability is to demonstrate how they are using data to effect positive change in the world. 

Grab is a fantastic example of data philanthropy. Since 2016, the ride-hailing super app has partnered with governments, NGOs and the World Bank to contribute its extensive ride data to the OpenTraffic project, a global platform that provides both real-time and historical traffic statistics. Traffic jams cost Asian economies an estimated two to five percent of GDP annually and Grab’s data on the routes of its 500,000 drivers have helped reduce urban pollution and traffic congestion in countries like Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines. 

By participating in the OpenTraffic project, Grab was able to prove the value of its data collection policies and create benefits for its stakeholders and anyone who rides or drives in Southeast Asian cities.

2. Storytelling through data

Today’s consumers are better informed on how brands are using their data. “The Privacy Mandate” found that 73 percent of respondents believe their data is used to target or re-target ads that serve them better, while 69 percent think that brands use their data to create personalized content and advertisements. 

In other words, users give up privacy online for access to more relevant services — and companies that illustrate this exchange in tangible, personal ways score big on brand love. 

Spotify’s Wrapped campaign provides users with a snapshot of their listening habits for the year. Quirky, irreverent and engaging, Wrapped was shared more than 60 million times in 2020 and is a significant part of how the brand relates to its customers. 

Both the data Spotify collects and the stories it tells are relevant to Spotify users, which has helped keep its extensive data collection policies popular. This is important because 87 percent of consumers surveyed will reconsider or stop doing business with a brand that asks for information that is not relevant to its product. 

3. Be as transparent as possible

As 74 percent of respondents are concerned with how companies collect and use their data, brands that make it a point to be transparent and upfront about their data collection policies stand to win. 

Looking to double down on privacy, Google will soon allow users to control which ads they see across Google search, Discover and YouTube. Replacing its former “About this Ad” function, the redesign will also give users the ability to choose to see more or fewer ads on a particular topic or from a specific brand — or even opt out of receiving ads in “sensitive categories” such as gambling, alcohol and dating. 

Google’s transparent and upfront communications on data protection go a long way into making users feel safe and protected. With 65 percent of respondents saying that transparency is key and wanting more control over the way their data is being shared and used, it is unsurprising that privacy-focused Google has dominated the search engine market. Meanwhile, after enhancing its security and privacy features, Microsoft Edge has become the world's second most popular desktop browser — thereby demonstrating the premium that data-literate consumers are placing on privacy and the support they are willing to extend to brands who share their philosophy.  

The next normal for privacy comms

Heeding the clarion call for more transparency and authenticity, communicators must operate in this “next normal”: Educating, telling data privacy stories and engaging with consumers about how their data is gathered and used as part of their experience with the brand. 

As nearly nine out of ten global respondents will reconsider or stop doing business with a brand based on their privacy and confidentiality stance, brands can no longer afford to act like data privacy doesn’t matter — it matters to increasingly privacy-savvy, digital-first consumers who are prepared to draw a line through brands that cross the line.